Was Thanksgiving 2020 just a year ago?

When I look back at photos from last November, it almost looks like a movie I watched. One I know I’ve seen but I can’t remember the details (my husband will tell you this is a common occurrence). Then someone says one little thing that brings it all rushing back.

That little thing was my 24YO, reminiscing about how he smoked his first turkey last year.

YES! Thanksgiving 2020! I not only watched that movie. I starred in it.

My husband had been in quarantine with his mom for four months at this point. She was finishing up radiation after going through chemo and a lumpectomy for breast cancer. I was living here with my then 20YO, my 23YO, and the latter’s 22YO girlfriend.

I remember COVID numbers were high. There was talk of vaccines being available in December. We were in the thick of pandemic life and had decided to make a lovely outdoor space so we could safely see Clyde, his mom, and the rest of our family and friends.

I remember how seeing friends in the wild or in a planned, outdoor setting brought huge emotions.

I remember being thankful for warm Texas winters for the first time ever.

I remember Noah deciding to smoke that turkey if I’d wake up early with him to prep it.

I remember some things were as they always were, like my lemon meringue pies. They were my grandfather’s favorite so Mom always made them for holidays. They are also my Dad’s favorite so I do the same.

I remember almost being overwhelmed by all the details of organizing Thanksgiving mostly by myself, yet determined we could do it and keep three germ bubbles together yet separate. I was lacking my wingman. And as lovely as my three 20somethings could be, they were not my wingman.

I remember thinking through details like serving spoons and germs, ordering the bamboo plates and fall napkins from Amazon (I remember ALL THE AMAZON), creating three dining areas in our backyard to house each germ bubble.

I remember trying not to lose my shit when some family members weren’t taking the pandemic seriously and when my dad complained we weren’t “together” enough as I was bringing food to his table.

I remember organizing photos for Clyde’s family when we recreated the entire scene (this time with Tex-Mex takeout instead of a full homemade feast because I do have some loose idea of my limits) a few days later.

I remember the whole outdoor prep — new chairs, new outdoor heaters, a new bench, all the firewood, the three eating areas — being worth it when my MIL sat by our fire pit for hours that night and laughed with her grandkids.

I remember when I stayed up until 1 am and spent a small fortune buying those damn heaters a few weeks earlier.

I remember wondering if this would be the last Thanksgiving my MIL would be with us. She was so frail during her treatment. And breast cancer had already taken one mom away from me.

I remember pushing through every bit of all of this because I wanted us to all be together. Well, and what else did we have to do?

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store to buy all the food — a small miracle in and of itself that I didn’t do last year — for our two Thanksgiving meals and my college son’s visit home.

Today, said college son will fly in from New Orleans (because, unlike last year, kids are at college) and can see all his hometown friends without argument of who has antibodies and who doesn’t.

Tomorrow, he and I will make chocolates pies with my MIL, who is doing wonderfully and now lives eight minutes from us. She says we are making three pies: one for my husband’s family gathering, one for my family gathering, and one for her youngest grandson, because he loves pie and she’s missed him since August.

On Thursday, we will all be together on Thanksgiving with only the usual holiday fuss.

With pies. With our antibodies. Side by side at one table.

I hope I remember how ordinarily special all of it is.

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The empty chairs at Thanksgiving

The last time my mom was with us for Thanksgiving, in 2015, these things were true:

• Noah was home for the first time since starting college in Brooklyn. (Now he’s a 24-year-old college graduate with his own business.)

• Sawyer wasn’t old enough to drive. (Now he’s 21 and going to college in New Orleans.)

• Pandemics were historical events.

• Obama was president and Hillary Clinton was going to be our next president.

• Gay marriage was newly legally throughout the country.

• Star Wars was in theaters for the first time in 30 years.

• The Seahawks failed to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch and lost the Super Bowl.

All of these things feel like so very long ago. Some of that is age. At 54, days and years hit differently than they did in our 20s and when we had young kids. Some of that is the pandemic, when time simultaneously stood still and now seems like somebody else’s life.

Like having Mom around.

It would feel like the most natural thing in the world for her to call and menu plan with me for Thanksgiving right now. She had a dry marker board on the side of her refrigerator where all such important lists went. She’d have her list, my list, my sister’s list. I’d be in charge of the lemon meringue pie because it’s Dad’s favorite and she takes shortcuts with the crust I don’t approve of. I say “takes” instead of “took” because my brain sometimes plays tense tricks with me when I think about her.

Not the best picture but the only one I got of Mom’s last Thanksgiving.
Where is Dad and why does Clyde look so grumpy?

A few days after she died, Sawyer said: “The family organization took a hit.”

His 16-year-old self immediately got the heart of what would take me a while to figure out: Mom was the glue. And our family would never be the same without her laid back but persistent faith and assumption of our stickiness.

Six years after that Thanksgiving, I am fairly settled into the idea that our family will never be the same. That’s a ridiculous thing to say. Of course our family will never be the same. What I mean is we can’t move on without her. As people, yes. As a family, no. We are a shell, and a soft shell at that, of what we were before as a unit. I’ve tried to fight it but the inertia isn’t on my side.

I assume every empty chair — newly vacated by those families whose losses are impossible to process even without the holidays piling on the grief and those for whom this is as routine as knowing green beans will be on the table in some fashion — changes a family.

I have no answers for how to maneuver life with the empty chair, during the holidays or on a Tuesday afternoon in June. I have no example to offer.

I have these things:

• Be with the people you want to be with and who want to be with you.

• Talk about the person who should be in that chair. Their absent years do not diminish their present years.

One day, maybe you’ll keep the “before” ways you want (like the pies). And one day, when it feels right, maybe you’ll let go of the “after” ways that don’t fit anymore for whatever reason. Like the pie crust Mom never gets right, there are no shortcuts. The chair will be filled. The verbs will become past tense. These are effortless realities.

The work is keeping that person around in whatever way you can. For me, that’s all that even attempts to fill Mom’s empty space.

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I’m sorry with a side of tacos

I’ve had many battles with my kids in our 24 and 21 years together. Two stand out, probably because there is photographic evidence.

In the fall of 2010, we went to Austin to see Clyde’s alma mater (the Texas Longhorns) play my alma mater (the Baylor Bears). I’d been a huge football fan when I was a kid, reengaged during my years at Baylor, then had neither the time nor the interest when the kids were young. But they were Longhorn fans from the time their wee little hands could do a proper hook ’em.

My ability to go from “did Baylor play today?” to super fan is now legendary at our house. And it started on this October day in Austin.

I was there because my husband and boys wanted to be there. And I love a good fall football game. Then Baylor started winning. And the muscle memory kicked in. Oh yes, I remember loving football! I remember collecting the pencils for all the professional teams in middle school! I remember watching the Dallas Cowboy games every Sunday with my mom. I remember crying and MAKING A POSTER MEMORIAL when Roger Staubach retired.

RGIII? You don’t say? Which number is he, I asked my uber fan sons. I went from learning the name of Baylor’s future Heisman winner to being that obnoxious fan who talks smack to the other side in real time and close proximity. And the other side was my family. Specifically, 10-year-old Sawyer.

Baylor hadn’t won in Austin since 1991. I didn’t remember that at the time, but I went in with zero expectation of our winning. I had no idea we were good. It all turned around pretty quickly in the second half of the game and we won 30-22. I hooted and hollered in the faces of my three Longhorn fans the entire way.

Left: Sawyer as the game started, full of hope and football love.
Right: Sawyer hating me, RGIII, and the Baylor Bears.

While I thought I had a PhD in this sweet boy, I’d missed how much this game — EVERY game — meant to him. Eleven years later, he’s still like this, but this was the first time I saw this face. Anger. Disappointment. Disgust. Life Will Never Be The Same. Also I Hate You Mom.

OK so maybe this was just a one-sided fight. But I remember realizing at some point as we walked down the bleachers and he wouldn’t look at me that I had to make it right. I remember Clyde’s bafflement at my bafflement.

I gave him space. I hugged him when he’d had enough of it. And I told him I was sorry for relishing in his team’s loss. Baylor and UT would play again. Both sides would win again. But I — and they — would always be respectful. Smack can be talked a different day. Nobody wants to see that face again.

A few years before this, in the fall of 2006, we were going across town to have family photos made. My recollection of the details of this day are fuzzier, both because it was further back in time and Google can’t help me fill in the missing pieces.

I remember it was a school day. It was rush hour. I had the boys and was meeting Clyde and the photographer at a park.

Never trust Christmas card photo smiles.

Don’t we look happy? Sawyer is 6 here, Noah is 9. We are color coordinated. The lighting is perfect. I’m sure the Christmas card was lovely.

Rewind 30 minutes from this shot: I kicked Noah out of our car in rush hour in the middle of Dallas (in my defense, he was being an asshole and it was a slow-moving cross-town street). I don’t know what he was doing but he was fresh off a day of school, likely hadn’t had enough downtime or food or both, and I likely wasn’t at my best trying to get these photos checked off. I’m also sure he had comments about what he was wearing. And the words just flew out of my mouth: “Get. Out!” It felt so satisfying, I would do it again another time or two before he got his driver’s license, but this was the first.

You should’ve seen their faces. Neither had any idea this was a possibility. I could tell by the traffic and timing of red light down the street that we’d be moving more slowly than Noah could walk, so it wasn’t like CPS needed to get involved. And within a few minutes, he got back in the car and we sat in silence.

When we got the park, he ratted me out within seconds of seeing Clyde. He announced he was NOT sitting or standing anywhere near me for ANY photo. Sweet Clyde smiled and remained calm until we could sort it all out after the photos. God bless the not-stay-at-home spouses who walk into the household war fresh off a day at the office with zero intel and hold it together.

And then at some point, after I gave him some space, I hugged him and said I was sorry for kicking him out of the car. And we talked about what he’d done wrong and what I’d done wrong. And we were fine.

This family photo makes me laugh every time I see it. Noah on one side, me on the other. It’s a reminder of how appearances tell you nothing about family dynamics and that the four of us have recovered from every battle.

We’ve had much bigger fights than these two. Much more serious. Much more dramatic. Sometimes I have worried how we’d come back to each other. But “how” is my first thought when my anger subsides even a little.

I recently had a fight with one of the boys that lasted a few days. Nothing was right with the world while I was mad at him and he was mad at me. As usual with fighting, the “alwayses” and the “nevers” flew freely around my brain and mouth. I knew they wouldn’t last, but I wasn’t sure how they would end.

They ended after we’d each had some space, when he brought me tacos for lunch, got us each a glass of water, and told me about his day. Then, just before he was heading out, he said he was sorry. And I hugged him and said I was sorry.

As it is and always will be. With tacos. Which I think is a genius addition.

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Halloween is cancelled this year

My husband and I are traveling to California this week. He’s coming back Saturday, the Eve of All Hallows’ Eve, but I’m staying until Monday to visit a friend. Our neighborhood is lively with trick-or-treaters so I asked him a couple of weeks ago if he wanted me to do the usual porch decor and candy.

“Are you going to do Halloween?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

Of course, that’s fine. It’s fine. We’ve been doing Halloween for 23 years in a row, not including our childhood and college years. We’re empty nesters now. Why shouldn’t year 24 be different?

And yet.

Halloween in downtown Waxahachie with the cousins, 2008.

Halloween was the craziest of holidays when the kids were little. Crazier in some ways than Christmas Day or any birthday. A few reasons:

• Texas “fall” makes it impossible to pick a weather-appropriate costume before you see the day’s forecast, which isn’t how Halloween costumes are chosen you may realize.

• While I am not super into Halloween per se, I am into anything that makes my kids happy. And Halloween made them the happiest. We did some sort of Halloween ding-dong-dash that involved adorable treats and leaving a ghost-shaped note on friends’ doors. Oh the giggles as the boys dashed away as fast as they could and watched their friends discover what we’d left. We planned for weeks, buying plastic Halloween goblets and stuffed ghosts. While most kids on the list were evergreens, sometimes a new friend would be added. Every now and then, I come across the printed instructions for this game and they never make it into the “throw away pile.”

• But the main reason was that my hometown of Waxahachie starts trick-or-treating downtown in the afternoon (if Halloween falls on a weekday; if not, the Friday before). My parents and sister and her kids always took part in this small town tradition, so we started joining them Noah’s first Halloween. He was four months old. He was maybe a pumpkin that year? He definitely was Cat In The Hat when he was 1 or 2. Once he started pre-school, I’d pick him up early and trek the 40 miles with baby and then toddler Sawyer, meeting up with my parents, sometimes Clyde’s mom, always my niece and nephew. We’d drop by to see Dad’s best motorcycle riding buddy, who had an insurance shop just off the downtown square. On warmer Halloweens, we’d stop at the ice cream shop. I’d sometimes run into old high school friends who still lived in town or were doing the same with their closely out-of-town kids. We’d stop by my grandmother’s house, who made each of her great grandkids a Halloween sack of their own. Then I would strap my sugared-up too hot or too cold babies into their car seats for the 40-minute drive back to Dallas.

Sawyer as a sumo wrestler, 2010.
His friend Ben is a package of gum.

[Enter the part of the story that likely leads to Clyde’s Halloween neutrality.]

We’d get home about 6 pm, meeting Clyde after work, and order a pizza. Always a pizza. If it was just the four of us, we’d eat it on the red, white, and blue quilt, aka the “pizza blanket” we used for living room pizza picnics. Often friends would come over because, again, our neighborhood is Halloween mecca. As the kids got older, they could handle this six- to eight-hour Halloween extravaganza. But there were days. Days they just didn’t.

It was maybe Noah’s second Halloween that, by the time we were headed home from the town square and the insurance friend and the grandparents and cousins and great-grandmother that Noah started running a fever. He was cranky and limp and done.

Clyde was so disappointed. I get it. I was running ragged for those 6-8 hours. It was the fun ragged times of early motherhood. I mean, it wasn’t all fun. But it was a lot of fun. Like so many days, I had the brunt of all the bullshit that comes with parenting. Those days were not all magical and no, I did not enjoy every minute. Little ones often are unintentional assholes. But when there’s endless candy and costumes and grandparents, they are the cutest. I was there for most the shit (literal and otherwise), yet that means I was there for most of the memories. Honestly, I was doing some of my best parenting in those candy- and fake-fur lined trenches.

He saw the photos. He heard the stories. He even took half a day off work every now and then to join us. But he doesn’t remember like it was this morning how it felt to pick up two little boys from school early — two little boys who felt like they’d won the lottery because they got to leave school to go eat candy with their cousins and be loved on by people who think they are the best humans. THEN come home and get candy from strangers with their friends.

That 30something mom knew it was special, even as some days the best part of it was strapping those babies in their car seats and the deep sigh that came when I knew they’d fallen asleep. At 50something, she knows you never see the last small town Halloween coming, the last Halloween ding-dong-dash, the last time your grandmother will make the little bags, the last time Mom would ask what the kids were dressing up as this year.

So it’s not that skipping THIS Halloween is such a big deal. It’s the memories that come flooding in like the flashback sequence at a soap opera wedding. No sappy music or soft focus comes with the flashback but you get the idea.

The cousins again in Waxahachie, circa 2003. This Halloween is remembered by the 90something temps
and Noah’s furry wolf costume.

I strangely have no pull toward the trunk-or-treat at our church. I have no idea if my friend will have Halloween plans but would be perfectly happy with pizza and wine by her Orange County pool. So why do I care that Clyde will be at our house, porch light and living room lights off, neighborhood kids walking right by our house?

Because I do miss how we did Halloween. For 23 years.

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Continuing Education: Lessons in minding your business from Tabitha Brown

I was having a discussion with my husband recently when it occurred to me, he’s missed a lot.

Background: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before Dallas went on COVID lockdown. Within a few months, she was in treatment and — faced with a pandemic and three 20somethings living at home — he moved in with her. We had two pandemic pods: Clyde and his mom; me with our two boys and a bonus girlfriend.

Tabitha Brown was in Dallas two weeks ago. My friend Jill and I stood in line for SEVEN HOURS to see her.

During that nine months, a lot of shit went down. I’m sure we were all in our head a lot more than usual. I was also in my IG feed a lot more than usual. And here’s what I realized during that conversation with my husband a few weeks ago: I learned a million things from amazing people I know only through my IG feed. I feel like I got PhDs in boundaries, feminism, Black women, parenting. All of this while we all earned our doctorates in virology, of course!

To process all of this, I’ve decided to take it one at a time, starting with Tabitha Brown. I actually was an early adapter to Tabitha’s magic. A vegan friend of mine shared Tabitha’s infamous Whole Foods video and I was hooked. Her words, her authenticity, her passion for that sandwich … I was all in. I also got the sandwich shortly thereafter. This omnivore is a huge fan. Tabitha on this video, sitting in her car in the Whole Foods parking lot: “Honey, I’m looking around and stuff look different, that’s how good it is. My life is changing right before my eyes. Good God this thing is good.”

Please watch the video now. I’ll wait.

Now, let me set this stage for Lessons Learned from Tab: I am not a vegan. I have no intention of giving up meat and dairy (although I do support ranchers who do our bodies, their animals, and our earth right). Yet I hang on her every word.

More than that, my friend Jill and I almost died trying to see her two weeks ago. On the last night of her nationwide book tour, she came to a small bookstore in Dallas. Jill and I — along with thousands of Tab’s closest friends — crawled through an asphalt parking lot in Texas (and let me tell you, fall has not quite arrived here!) until we got a hug and a minute with Dr. Brown, as I shall now call her. By the end, Jill and I were almost literally crawling, and the next day it felt like we’d run at least a half-marathon. Is “almost died” an exaggeration? I’m 54. Let me life and die as I will.

Here’s the best life advice I’ve learned from Dr. Brown since I started following her a few years ago and, especially, in the past 18 months:

Let me use it in a sentence, spelling bee style:

“I’m going to add some avocado to this sandwich … and I can because that’s my business.”

“I’m going to work in my pajamas today … and I can because that’s my business.”

“I’m going to have wine with dinner on a Tuesday … because that’s my business.”

“I’m going to go stay home with my husband on a Saturday night and watch Friends reruns … because that’s my business.”

“That’s my business” gives me permission to do whatever I want without any concern for what anybody else has to say or think about it. Now, I didn’t need much permission to get down Tab’s road. But many people do. And now I have succinct words for it. And those words are empowering.

Here’s the other side of this life lesson. If what I do is MY business, what YOU do is YOUR business.

WHA????

You might want to read that sentence again. I might need to read it every damn day!

Being human comes with so much judgment. I literally said to my husband one day when I had babies: “I don’t think I could ever be friends with someone who doesn’t breastfeed.”

Tabitha Brown’s new book is just out, sitting on my nightstand, waiting to teach me!

Where was Tab when I was 30? Because 30something Dawn needed to Calm The Fuck Down. Now, I still will preach about the benefits of breastfeeding, but by the time my kids were in grade school, I can assure you it was no longer a dealbreaker. I walk around in life meeting women and have zero thought to how they fed their babies. Zero!

How many other things are there in life like that — things that would be smoothed over by a bit of “that’s my business?”

It’s your business to … FILL IN THE BLANK. Dr. Brown has put words to the fact that we can do this all damn day. And so can everyone around you.

Now, I still have judgment. Things like putting ketchup on perfectly good fries before you taste them, refusing to take the subway when visiting New York City, and voting for Donald Trump are your business … but I will talk about your choices if you do them.

Why? BECAUSE THAT’S MY BUSINESS. 🙂

I have said this to my husband so many times since he moved back in. He didn’t take Dr. Tabitha Brown’s It’s My Business 101 like I did, so he doesn’t always get it. But I’m spreading the word every day, Dr. Brown. Preach on!

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5 things about college kids coming home

This is my sixth year of kids coming and going from out-of-state colleges. We are NOT the people whose kids come home at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer break. I mean yes, of course, they are home those times. But with Southwest miles on our side, we bring our kids home all the damn time. It’s how we do college, perhaps stemming from the fact that my husband and I both went to college within close driving distance of our hometown.

Some of their visits are super short — Friday night to Sunday. Our youngest was home this past weekend for 44 hours, a tight schedule for someone whose presence is requested by his parents, his brother, his grandma, multiple friends, and, of course, his dog. He can sleep at Thanksgiving.

Percentage-wise, I think the time spent, emotions, and truths of this 44-hour visit mirror any visit of any length. This is what I have learned about said visits since our oldest son first came home Thanksgiving of 2015.

1. I prepare for myself … and pretend I’m preparing for him.

At 3:30 pm last Friday, my husband called to say he was getting off work early (because traffic gets so bad here during Texas-OU weekend that bankers go home). He was heading to his mom’s to do a few things.

Me: “Can you come by first because we need to hang a few things.”

Clyde: “Now?”

Me: “Yes.”

Clyde: “In Sawyer’s room?”

Me: “No in your office. And also in the bathroom.”

It is nonsensical but I have deadlines and lists and just before something happens, the flurry of deadlines and lists get done. So it makes perfect sense to me that at 3:30 on Friday, I would need to hang pictures we’ve had since August before Sawyer’s flight lands at 10 pm. Oh, also a new shower curtain. URGENT.

Sawyer also had new linens and, of course, his room is has been organized and tidied up since he left it post-Hurricane Ida (I intentionally use the passive voice so as not to accept that yes, I did clean his room). The house looked fantastic.

Sawyer’s flight was late. We picked him up at the airport, he walked in the door, dropped his duffle bag in the entryway, fully embraced his dog, a friend picked him up, and he slept at his brother’s apartment. He spent 3 minutes the next morning in his lovely room and slept there the last night. He never stepped into Clyde’s office and likely didn’t notice the new shower curtain or bathroom art.

I wanted things organized because I want him to feel loved and I want to focus on him (and not the unhung art and ugly shower curtain of the past). Preparing for his arrival is how I show love. I don’t think that’s how he feels love, though, so I include hugs, grace, and his favorite pork buns with the new linens.

2. You are not their priority. But then, for a minute, you are.

I saw Sawyer on the 20-minute drive home on Friday (a friend picked him up within 10 minutes), during a 10-minute drive to the Texas-OU game on Saturday, during a 30-minute dinner on Sunday, and the 20-minute drive back to the airport after that dinner.

And for a one-hour trip Sawyer suggested to the Farmers Market Sunday morning.

He woke up in time for it after a late night. I was up and ready, and if he’d slept through it, all would be forgiven. But he didn’t.

Now, this was a 44-hour trip. But I would say this generally is how it goes. There is family time. If magic happens, there is one-on-one time with Clyde or me, there is grandparent time, there is brother time. And there is what he is mostly here for: Friend time.

I read once that the creators of Friends ended it when they did because the characters were moving on with their own families. The period “when friends are family” was coming to an end.

I lived that time. You lived that time. And now Sawyer and Noah are living that time. It is our job to be respectful of that.

And to smile and take pumpkin patch selfies when we are in their focus, for however long it lasts.

3. It our job to show delight, not guilt.

This is simple. Yet time with our adult kids can bring out my inner Jewish/Catholic mom guilt. And I am Methodist so there is no place for that.

Read #2.

4. It is still normal life.

You have work. You have responsibilities. You have non-offspring plans. And that’s all OK.

This trip was centered around the Texas-OU game because, again, Texas football. So fun was had. Memories were made. Not with me because I don’t do crowds and heat so I went to see Tabitha Brown with a friend. And that’s OK.

Every moment doesn’t have to be precious. Even at Thanksgiving. Even at Christmas. Even on summer vacation. This is just life. They still need to pick up their underwear off the bathroom floor. You can still handle your deadlines (again, see #2). I might want to spend four hours making Sawyer’s favorite dinner … or we might stop at the corner taco stand because they don’t have good tacos in New Orleans — AND HE WILL BE JUST AS HAPPY.

5. They will leave. And they will come back.

Whether it’s 44 hours or four weeks (Lord help us with that endless winter break), they will pull out of the driveway or you will drop them off at the airport.

Maybe you’ll tear up. Maybe you won’t. Maybe they were a pain in the ass while they were home. Maybe you were. Maybe it WAS precious. But as soon as they walk away, you miss them. You might not want them back immediately … but you miss them (add that to the list of crazy things that are the reality of parenting FOREVER).

And here’s the truth: You want them to want to leave. You want them to be happy to be home, too. And then you want them to be happy to walk back toward their current and future life.

And then next time, all of this will happen again. The coming and the going is the never-ending circle of parenting “adults.” Be delighted in it.

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My son and MIL: the cutest couple I know

Noah has been living with my mother-in-law the past couple of months. He broke up with his girlfriend, spent a few nights here, a few nights at his old place, a night here and there on a friend’s couch, and eventually settled in at the land of biscuits and gravy with laundry service and hugs. I don’t blame him one bit.

I would’ve never imagined a scenario where they’d be living together at 24 and 78. But 2020 taught us to laugh at the idea of unimagined scenarios.

Bee and tiny Noah, summer of 1997.

Background:

• Beverly (“Bee” to her grandkids) was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before we went on lockdown in March 2020. She lived in our hometown of Waxahachie, 30 minutes south of Dallas, in a house my father-in-law may as well have built 50 years ago. His fingerprints were on every stone, in every professional and amateurish detail of the little white house outside of town

• Eventually, Clyde moved in with her last summer. We had three 20somethings living here (our boys and Noah’s girlfriend) and we couldn’t expose her to COVID. So we all socially distanced for nine months.

• Even before cancer and COVID, it seemed Beverly was getting lonely living alone and might need some extra help. After nine months of constant companionship, we knew it was time. So this March — shoutout to Moderna for making this possible — she moved into an apartment eight minutes from us, and Clyde moved home.

More background:

• Clyde and I got married in April of 1996. His dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer that August, and I was pregnant with Noah by October. His dad passed away in January of 1997, on the first day I felt Noah move. Noah was born on June 22. If you aren’t doing the math, that’s 14 months. It was the most dramatic year any of us experienced, although 2020 did its best to uncrown it.

• Kenneth was 55. Beverly, 54. The same ages Clyde and I are now. I’m just going to let that sentence disturb me for a while.

• Beverly fell apart in every way you would imagine. Gracefully, of course, but everything about her life — and the life she expected to live — changed.

Noah and Beverly, through the years.

In ways that wouldn’t have happened if Kenneth had been here, we wrapped Beverly up into our life. And our life at that point was all about the summer arrival of Baby Noah. She came to his sonogram. She stayed with us after we brought him home from the hospital for as long as we needed her. She rocked and rocked and rocked Noah for as long as he needed her.

Noah was her first grandson. The mom of two boys, her muscle memory of how this would go was strong and, I think, comforting. When Sawyer was born almost three years later, she was as tickled as we were that brothers would be running up and down our stairs for the next couple of decades (and into the third, they still are!). And, of course, she stayed with Noah while we were at the hospital the night Sawyer was born. Starting perhaps that night, she has been there for all of Noah’s biggest life moments.

I think Noah saved Beverly. She is a strong woman, stronger than I think she knew. But Noah gave her a reason to get out of bed (or her recliner, which she took to sleeping in after Kenneth died). His arrival was a reason to put one foot in front of the other toward her future, a future she had never planned. Death then birth. Gutted then overflowing. Depressed then hopeful. Furious about the unfairness of it all then filled with the miracle of the same.

I watched Beverly fall in love with the idea of Noah — and then fall in love with Noah. And through that love, I think she found her way to her life after Kenneth.

People bond during strange times as these. Pandemics. Cancer. Mission trips. Death. Hurricanes. Summer camp. Boot camp. Beverly loves all her grandkids: our two boys and our two nieces. She is the grandmother every child in this world deserves. Every one of them. And Noah, Sawyer, Kayla, and Kimberly won the Powerball lottery when they got her. It is no slight to the other three when I say that the bond between Beverly and Noah is one born of timing and grief. It’s different. It’s adorable.

From graduation to visiting Noah at college in Brooklyn to the summer of wigs and chemo.

Noah and his girlfriend had been dating 4 1/2 years when they broke up this summer. The adulting required when dismantling a college love and all that came with it — including an apartment — was just as messy as those of us who have been through it know it to be. And Noah was as out of sorts as anyone grieving such a love. Most things about his life — and the life he expected to live — changed.

This time, Beverly saved Noah. Saved is dramatic, of course. But there is no way around a breakup but through it. And she gave him the perfect space to do that. His own room after moving out of his apartment and long being tired of living with us after the pandemic trapped him here post-graduation. My doing his laundry and cooking his meals isn’t a good dynamic (and I’m honestly not here for it). Her doing it is the privilege of a grandma.

The day we moved Beverly into her apartment. I love the way she looks at him.

There will never be another person in this world who is as happy to see Noah walk through a door as Beverly. I say that knowing how much I love him, how much Clyde loves him, how much his future life partner and kids will love him. He needed that this summer. And he got it several times a day. Plus breakfast before he went to work, clean laundry, and a partner to binge watch Grace and Frankie. Noah is a personal trainer so he also works her out a couple of times a week. He does it because he wants her to be healthy for as long as she can be; she does it because he wants her to.

Noah suggested they do 2 sets of 5; Bee countered with 2 sets of 1.

At dinner last week — Noah and Beverly on one side of the table, my husband and me on the other — I had that gut-to-heart-to-throat-to-eyes-almost-tearing-up watching the two of them, the cutest couple I know. We should all be so adored.

The sandwich generation is marketed to us like a leftover olive loaf sandwich from your Friday lunchbox that isn’t found until Monday. There is none of that being served here and I am truly honored to be part of it, watching these two people I love, love each other. We’re just all saving each other the best we can, aren’t we? Noah and Beverly have been beautiful examples of that all his 24 years.

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Half birthdays and other WTFN celebrations

Yesterday was Sawyer’s half birthday. 21.5. He got texts from us and a giant s’more “pizza” from the Chocolate Pizza company delivered to his apartment in New Orleans.

The origins of the half-birthday celebrations in our home are straightforward: When Noah started the first grade at a local Montessori school, birthdays were a big deal. Imagine mostly white, upper-middle-class moms who did not work outside the home in all our early-2000s well-intended, assuming all was right with the world glory! If your birthday fell during a holiday, no problem! We’ll celebrate the kid’s half birthday.


Sawyer getting the rare whole homemade pie — half birthday treats usually are cut in half and from the store — on his 10th birthday.

Except Noah’s birthday is June 22 so his half birthday is December 22. And who was I to deprive my baby of a school birthday celebration? Such indulgences amuse me now — as if a huge-ass friend celebration and an extended family celebration weren’t enough! — but I remember the visceral need to make everything good for my boys when they were young.

And so, half birthdays became a thing.

They are the WTFN celebration that made it for the long haul. We once had a party to celebrate our German shepherd’s birthday (there is zero evidence I bought a dog bone cookie cutter, made human and canine cookies, and organized a game where kids drank out of dog bowls).

I did low-key cakes for lots of awesome things my kid did as they got older — and more likely to roll their eyes at any sign of enthusiasm from us.

Noah turns 18.5!

Solid SAT score? CAKE! Swim team captain? CAKE! Tennis captain? CAKE! Broke the Dallas ISD record held since 1968 in the 50 free? CAKE! Picked a college? CAKE! OK, sometimes it was a pie. But it always had writing on it and the people working the bakery at our Whole Foods were always amused.

I learned from the dog party (again, there is NO EVIDENCE so let me live my life): celebrations can be simple. Let me say it again: S.I.M.P.L.E. Kids want to be seen, loved, celebrated … but the older they get, they less time you have to squeeze that in. Be brief. Be low-key. Involve food.

For half birthdays, we just do half of some sweet treat. If a friend is involved, it’s because he was already here. I grab a few candles from the junk drawer, cut one in half, and toss half a store-bought dessert on a plate. We sing Happy Half Birthday (same tune, squeeze in “half”), they roll their eyes a bit, smile a lot, and we eat. And it’s done. The college version of this, obviously, is sending a dessert to them with a HHBD text.

I’ve had two popular responses to my WTFN celebratory ways through the years:

  1. I should’ve done this for my kids.
  2. Why are you so extra?

Oh No. 2, it’s who I am, (almost 🐾) no regrets! On No. 1, I say we all have gifts. I never took my kids to Disney, never did Elf on the Shelf, never make their own legit birthday cakes. We can’t do all the things.

A cake for breaking a Dallas ISD swim record and a key lime pie for making tennis captain.

And because we can’t do all the things, I decided after Noah’s 21st birthday that half birthdays were ending once they turned 21. What are we going to do this when they’re 40.5? But in 2020, we brought the half birthday back because COVID lockdown was sucking the life out of us and we needed sugar and candles and songs and ANYTHING fun and frivolous.

How long will they last? The jury is still out. The pandemic did nothing but egg on my innate desire to celebrate any time and any thing and any person we want to.

Because WTFN?

Noah turns 14.5, Sawyer turns 20.5, Noah turns 20.5, Sawyer turns 15.5.

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Add hurricanes to the list of things more fun pre-kids

At 10:27 am two weeks ago, Sunday, Aug. 29, I texted one of my oldest friends. She lives in Spain now so I didn’t know if she’d be paying attention to Hurricane Ida making a beeline for my college kid in New Orleans.

“Good luck to Sawyer,” she said. “Hope he’s safely hunkered down. That looks like a big-ass storm.”

“Yes, big ass,” I responded. “This was much more fun with you and Andrew as the 20something kid — NOT the parent!”

And then, as she has many times in our friendship, she spoke the plain truth: “So many things are much more fun as the kid than as the parent.”

Sarah and I were 20something reporters in South Florida in August of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew was headed directly toward our town of Stuart. It ended up making landfall south, with a direct hit on Homestead on August 24. The next morning, Sarah and I packed up our reporter’s notebooks and drove south.

My actual notebook from covering Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992.

Things I remember:

• Shopping with my friend Laura for hurricane supplies. The shelves were pretty empty because 20something planning skills are suspect. We panic grabbed SpaghettiOs and laughed our way through Publix. We definitely bought alcohol.

• We had some sort of hurricane party.

• We had a plan that involved going to my boyfriend’s apartment because he lived further inland and SpaghettiOs Laura and I lived right by a canal. Laura had a couple of cats, I had three cats and Alec the Pomeranian, Greg the boyfriend had a psychotic cat named Lau.

• As the reality and wine coolers set in, I changed the entire plan and decided I couldn’t take all my animals to Greg’s. Did he bring Lau to my apartment? I have no idea. I barely communicated this change of plans to Laura who, as the reality and beer set in, wasn’t too happy with me as now she had to go through the hurricane alone. We lived across the parking lot from each other but still, this was a big-ass storm. We are still BFFs so thankfully, 20something anger is short.

• I left the next day with Sarah (we were all local newspaper reporters) and made it to Fort Lauderdale, I think.

• I came back and left a day or two later with a newspaper staff photographer for Homestead. We talked to people who had lost everything and took a helicopter tour of the devastation.

What I don’t remember:

• Talking to my parents.

My oh my how things change in 29 years.

I started texting with Sawyer about the hurricane probably the Tuesday or Wednesday before it hit. When we moved him into his apartment near the Loyola campus ONE WEEK PRIOR, we’d left him a half-ass hurricane kit: 3 big jugs of water, a first-aid kit, protein bars, cashews, a flashlight, and extra batteries. A parent suggested in the Loyola parent FB group that a solar phone charger might be helpful. Amazon got that to his porch on Friday.

The half-ass hurricane supplies we left Sawyer when we moved him in a week before Hurricane Ida.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and the first half of Friday fretting over whether we should bring him home — to Sawyer, to my husband, to my friends, to his roommates’ parents. When his 24YO brother said we should bring him home, I momentarily panicked. Was I being such a negligent parent his big brother knew best? Turns out, he just wanted him to come visit.

Once the decision was made that they were staying, I spent the rest of the weekend watching the hurricane on The Weather Channel and discussion of the hurricane on Twitter.

Now, a quick Google search tells me The Weather Channel was a thing in 1992, so I’m guessing my mom was doing the same back then. And it’s quite likely she called me a few times with prep ideas and my dad called a few times to fret. We have no proof of any of this and my mom, the family historian, sadly isn’t here to remind me the details. I really missed her calls as Ida got closer to Sawyer. Her usual “it’ll be fine” was reassuring and when she was worried, I knew there was cause.

Sawyer is a competent young man. But he’s 21. And he’s lived in landlocked Dallas his entire life. I was a competent young woman. But — at 25! — I was panic buying Spaghetti0s and forgetting to let my best friend know where we were sleeping that night. It didn’t help when I asked Sawyer Friday afternoon what they planned to do if they lost power and, therefore, the food in their refrigerator, he said this: “We’ll just order takeout.”

Oy vey.

Turns out one roommate took a page from my SpaghettiO book and Ubered to Walmart on Friday (mind you, the hurricane is making landfall on Sunday). He found pop-tarts, cereal, and chips. As per the 20something script, they also had a hurricane party that night.

Hurricane Ida was planning to hit New Orleans as a Category 4. Hurricane Katrina devastated the city on this exact same date 16 years earlier as a Category 3. My hurricane PTSD comes from covering Hurricane Andrew (a Category 5) and working with our church to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes do not fuck around.

Proof of life and evidence they were listening to parental advice at some point.

Bottom line: New Orleans’ levee structure held; its power structure, not so much. The Loyola boys easily survived landfall; the aftereffects, not so much. Their apartment lost power at 11:30 am that Sunday, just after landfall. Sawyer and his roommates spent a long day trying to charge their phones with the sun, hiding in a windowless hallway as the worst of the storm passed, reading Harry Potter books, and learning how to build a house of cards.

Reports were it would be weeks before the power was back on.

The roommates from Maine and Maryland couldn’t get home because the airport was closed, so a Dallas vacation it was. I drove into Louisiana on Wednesday and picked up three hot, hungry, and hurricane weary college students.

While much of Louisiana suffered far worse than New Orleans and plenty of people are still without power, New Orleans is back in working order. After 8 days of Texas culture (they now have a favorite taco joint and one wore his new cowboy hat on the plane back), the boys left Dallas to go back to college life a few days ago.

Roommate Kurt’s big-ass hat box is my favorite memory from this entire episode.

I hope Ida left them what Andrew left me: stories they will forever share, a healthy respect for mother nature, an understanding that mom and dad and hurricanes do not fuck around so LISTEN TO THE ADVICE, and a sense of how many people had it so much worse than they did.

I’m just leaving with the same hurricane PTSD I walked into this storm with, apologies for my dad for no doubt causing him much stress as I went through and covered Andrew, and a nostalgia for the ease of the 20something years and friendships.

Eat all the SpaghettiOs while you can guys. Because on this side of things, it’s all wine and Weather Channel and worries.

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Pros and cons of empty nesting, one week in

As I recall, it occurred to me sometime during my oldest son’s middle school years that the days of our living together as a foursome were numbered. I mean if you’d asked me, I would’ve given the sane answer of 18 years or so. But before that — in the trenches with babies and toddlers and elementary kids and the 1.874 million things that come to us in those trenches — it just never occurred to me.

The core four on a beach vacation in South Padre just before dropping Sawyer off.

Of course to think the foursome somehow ends at 18 is crazy talk — and thank god! When my kids were 8 and 5 or 12 and 9 or 15 and 12, I just had no idea what lay ahead. Although my nightstand was full of parenting books, to the exclusion of all the other gorgeous books available to me, this wasn’t something I prepared for. Is it just because we’re so in the moment, as kids pull us to be? Or is it because this is something we don’t talk about enough?

Maybe both. So, let’s talk about it.

My boys are 24 and 21. We had a shit ton of together time during COVID lockdown and now — as of a flight home from New Orleans to Dallas on Wednesday, Aug. 18 — we are empty nesters. Our youngest son has transferred colleges and is starting his new journey in New Orleans; our oldest graduated from college in Brooklyn just before COVID and is finding his professional and personal path here in Dallas.

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Flying home from college
drop-off in New Orleans

One week in, here are the pros and cons I see:

PROS

• There are no dirty dishes in the sink each morning from his midnight second dinners.

• Nobody bounds up the stairs at 3 a.m.

• The pillows remain on the couch as we leave them each night. Also there are no tennis shoes and dirty socks under said couch.

• There are no leftover containers stuffed haphazardly in our refrigerator.

• All the glasses are in the cabinet. (Parents of children still living at home, you may want to read that again because yes, one day you will be living this dream!)

• All the men’s socks that come out of the dryer belong to my husband. I’ve been dealing with sock ownership for at least a decade. At some point I just started putting them all in a basket on top of the dryer except for mine. This decision was not well-received by my husband, but self-care is important and I stand by my decision. My brain is now ready to receive things like algebra and how (allegedly) a cup of flour is different than a cup of water, I think.

• I bought everything I wanted at the grocery store for the week — at Whole Foods even! — and the bill was $129. OK I get my meat from a local farmer and our wine from a wine club but STILL.

• Nobody is here to finish off all the desserts (like the birthday lemon pound cake my MIL made me) that I love and don’t need.

CONS

• Nobody is here to finish off all the desserts (especially that lemon pound!) that I love and don’t need.

• Trash & recycling falls to us (I’ve negotiated an “I’ll keep doing all your laundry if you do all the trash” agreement with my husband so we’ll see how that goes).

• Our dog Sosa (who is really Sawyer’s dog) feels there are entirely too few people in the house to meet her needs.

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Sosa, waiting for Sawyer to come running up the stairs to their room.

• There is no one to go get the ice and beer for a small gathering we’re planning for Clyde’s birthday on Friday. (Also 35 other errands I likely need done and would rather send an offspring than face the Texas heat.)

• Sawyer won’t be here for the birthday party.

• Nobody brings me an extra taco from their lunch when I announce I’m eating at home (and am instantly filled with regret).

• Nobody in this house will notice when I color my hair tomorrow.

• We have half a watermelon in our refrigerator because we ate the other half on Sunday and Sawyer can eat his body weight in watermelon.

• I miss his face and laugh.

OK so it seems there are more cons than pros one week in. Still, it feels all is right with the world. Well, maybe not Sosa’s world.

This transition from the mom of children to the mom of adults didn’t happen when Noah or Sawyer turned 18 or when we dropped either of them off at college. Nor will it end when they pay for their own car insurance, ER visits, and phone plan (although honestly, I think the latter is complete fiction). As my brain is freed from the sock dilemma (and really will never do algebra or fret over solid or liquid measuring cups), I’m going to write about this transition in this space. I’d love it if you’d follow and share if strange land between 12 and ?? makes you laugh, drink, cuss, and cry. We’re all in this together and, honestly, it’s so much more interesting to talk about than nap times or baby’s first shoe.

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