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Felix Baumgartner takes a leap from space.

Here’s what I know from walking into a preschool class eighteen years ago with my first child. Every class has a Felix Baumgartner in it, and I don’t want my kids being friends with him. Or her. Or anyone who thinks it’s fun to jump because there’s a bridge, or climb because there’s an Everest, or dare because he’s a devil.

I’m talking to you, Felix Baumgartner, Mr. Risk-Your-Life-Jumping-Out-Of-A-Space-Capsule-For-Fun. Think about your mother, for goodness sakes.

Does this ring a bell? “It’s those friends of his. They’re a bad influence.” Every mother alive has blamed the first and second and sometimes third round of bad behavior on the company her kid keeps. Peer pressure is the scapegoat of every parent caught hand wringing in despair as she wonders why her child made bad choices.

So imagine if your kid hung out with Felix. Every night at the table would be the same old same old. “I don’t care if he jumped from a space capsule. I said NO.” Or, “I don’t care if he fell at Mach 1. NO.” Or even, in utter despair, “No, you may not jump from three atmospheres. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never. Understood? Now go finish your homework.”

Felix had to be tough at home, tough at school, and just plain tough. Maybe if he’d been in middle school now, he’d have been medicated out of his tendency to push the boundaries of fear and sanity. I’m not necessarily promoting the possible merits of medicating our youth, but perhaps on the right cocktail he would have been happy just bungy jumping or ice climbing or heli-skiing, like more typical thrill seekers.

The dinner conversation would still be the same, though on a smaller magnitude. “I don’t care if it’s a one-time-only opportunity to squirrel-fly from the Eiffel Tower. Not while there’s breath in my body.”

As far as I’m concerned, the fear-buzz Felix experienced before plunging toward earth could only be a fraction of what his mother felt. And I’m guessing she doesn’t enjoy the buzz from the emotional intensity of life-threatening activity the way her son does.

Sometimes it sucks to be the mother.

Scooters and Hips

Talismans of Youth: A scooter, stilts and a pogo stick.

I was minding my own business, hoisting the bottom half of  a couch out of our garage  in preparation for the AmVets truck pick-up, when Tim suggested that we give away a few other things. I nodded approval, because my idea of a good time includes getting rid of everything, and my idea of a great time is sweeping out a newly emptied garage.

Tim carried out a couple of brass floor grates, a rusted wrought-iron table, and my heart.

He didn’t actually hold my heart, of course. What he held was a set of stilts, a scooter, and a pogo stick. These were our younger daughter’s favorite toys, symbols of a childhood spent in constant motion: balancing, careening, and bouncing.

Twelve years of soccer, six Varsity letters, and one Alaskan NOLS expedition later, she’s still a force of nature. But as she grew up, I grew accustomed to her adult pursuits, running and biking and exploring her way through life.

One glance at these Talismans of her younger self reduced me to a nostalgic mess. That’s what parenting is, I guess. A series of matter-of-fact rituals occasionally interrupted by moments of overwhelming emotion.

My husband took one look at me at chalked it up to menopause.

But it was more than hormones gone awry in my sleep-deprived middle-aged body. Two days earlier, I’d spent the night in the hospital, keeping my eighty-year-old father company in the ICU  following his hip replacement surgery. A life-long athlete at the national and even international level, my father’s hips and knees and ankles are now failing him, taunting him later in life after having served him so well.

That night in the hospital, from the discomfort of my not-fully-reclinable Lazy-Boy bed, I found myself looking not at my father, pale from his surgery, but at his electronic monitor. Those brightly colored zig-zagging lines and beeping numbers offered more reassurance to me than the faint snores and coughs coming from his bed.

I thought about the heart-stopping fear I used to feel, watching my daughter climb and jump and race through life, missing corners and edges and danger by the narrowest of margins. And I thought about the heart-stopping fear I felt now, worrying that my father’s heart would, in fact, stop.

That’s what being a daughter  is, I guess. A lifetime of counting on the presence of a parent, interrupted by the overwhelming emotion of acknowledging the inevitable.

Nope. I reject that. Dad’s going to be fine. He’ll move from the hospital to rehab to home. He’ll swap the hospital bed for a walker, the walker for a cane, and then even the cane will be gone.

That’s what being an optimist is about. The stubborn belief that moving forward is always good.

I let the guys from AmVets take the stilts and the scooter and the pogo stick. But not before I snapped a picture. A gal needs a photo every now and then to remember these little moments. And then I rode my own bike to the hospital to visit my dad, who really is getting better.

Slutty Brownies: Brownie, chocolate chip cookie dough, and Oreo crumbles. What’s not to love?

The difference between Katie and Oprah? The slutty brownie.

Jessica Simpson confessed a weakness for them. To the uninitiated, they are a  baked confection featuring an indulgent mixture of brownie, chocolate chip cookie dough and Oreo cookie crumbles. What’s not to love?

But when Katie heard them described, she proffered a mock-gag.

Oprah would have been salivating, begging for a bite or even admitting to having a batch in her pantry. She would have had some on set and taken a bite on camera, connecting with Simpson and everyone else watching.

I’m not saying that every woman dreams slutty brownie dreams. But no woman I know – no woman I can relate to – thinks they sound gross.

Hugging POTUS

ImageAnyone catch the front page NYTimes image of Scott Van Duzer lifting the First Man off his feet in an enthusiastic show of support and strength? It’s a great photo, but it raises more than just Obama’s feet from the ground. It raises a few questions.

For starters, is that legal? Answer: Yes. Van Duzer got the okay from the Secret Service. Okay, those guys have a sense of humor and a sense of what makes a good photo op. Fair enough.

Is it right? Sure. It’s well documented that the FLOTUS is a big hugger. Why not extend the privilege to others?

Is it difficult? Well, this is where I must stop and pause. The front page picture shows a big, strong guy essentially performing as a human version of Air Force One. He gets the President well off the ground. The caption could easily have read: Lift Off!

But keep reading and discover this: President Obama is 6’1″ and weighs 176 pounds.

I’m 5’10”, and though I don’t weigh 176 pounds, I have in the past. And I wasn’t pregnant at the time.

My entire take-away? Maybe I’m eating too much take-away!

 

ImageIt’s so, so hard being an empty nester. Nobody warned me.

For one thing, I don’t know how to grocery shop anymore. Big cart? I don’t think so.  Two-for-one pricing on those end of season strawberries? Sure, it’s a bargain, but we’re going out of town for the weekend and probably won’t finish them before they go bad. Roast a whole chicken? For the two of us? It would be so wasteful.

Milk presents its own dilemma. Actually, I feel like I’m breaking up with the dairy department entirely, and it’s not going smoothly. For decades I’ve just assumed that whatever else is on my list, a couple of half gallons of skim should always come home with me. Open my sister Betsy’s fridge, and behold the tableaux of a house with children:  homage to milk. When I was last there, she had nine half gallons of skim, a carton of whole and a pint of half and half. 

Tim and I just pitched the remains of the skim we couldn’t finish before it went sour. It’s just so sad.

Here’s the good news: I have cooked dinner since the girls left. Once. Here’s the truth about that dinner: only one person complained about the meal. I’m not mentioning names, but I thought it was delicious.

Television is turning out to be a problem, too, which is surprising. We spent decades portioning out screen time for our kids. Yes, I’ll admit that “Not on a school night” turned into “Only after your homework is finished” which descended into “Okay, but just for the play-offs.” Still, there was a sense that the screen needed to be restricted until the final diploma had been received. 

Not any more. No kids. No school. No rules. Every night is a no-homework night. I am absolutely convinced that if television had existed at the time Greek mythology was being codified, there’d be a companion to Bacchus. She’d be named something like Comatessa, Goddess of the Screen. Her sly gaze would lock your eyes and fix your head into a stoney paralysis, where you’d remain for the rest of eternity. Sure, it’d be fun in the beginning.  But inevitably the good shows would end and you’d be stuck watching the Kardashians for the rest of forever.

My point is we need to resist the allure of the screen. I did not see that coming.

What’s been most surprising is my discovery that the world is divided into two types of people: those who feel sorry for me, and those who won’t talk to me.  

Let’s start with those big-hearted, sad-eyed, going-straight-to-heaven types. I run into them all over town, and when they realize that both of my girls are off to college, they stop.  They lean in toward me. They clutch my arm, my shoulder, my hand, gripping me tightly to show their support for what surely must be a dark and empty time in my life.  

“How are you doing?” they ask in husky voices, tinged with the dreaded reality that one day, too, this fate will befall them.

“It’s totally awesome. I don’t know how to buy milk anymore, but otherwise, it’s great.” 

I can’t help it. The more earnest their tone, the bouncier I become. It’s a character flaw.  

Of course, there’s another set of people I didn’t know existed. They’re the ones who won’t talk to me because I made it to the finish line and they’re still mired in carpool lanes and packed lunches and back-to-school nights.  When I see them around town, they’ve made it clear that they don’t want to hear about where Tim and I had dinner or what movies we’ve seen or how few shoes litter my hallway. I’m allowed to smile, but only for a short time. 

In truth, this empty nester gig only lasts for a short time. Why? It’s because of the new-fangled college calendars. A thousand years ago, when Tim and I went to college, we’d say goodbye in September and then counted the days until Thanksgiving.

It’s not like that anymore. Now there are Fall Breaks, and Fall Reading Weeks, and Parents’ Visiting Weekends (which always happen to be scheduled within a week of the Fall Break, by the way).  You want to know what I really do with my time these days? I make travel plans for my girls to come home and for us to visit the girls.  

I also call. And text. And email. And send packages.

After all, I’ve got a little time on my hands.

There are lots of ways to host a child’s suitor. I’m trying to figure out which of them suits me.

Usually, the Mason-Dixon Line serves as more than an historical marker for me. I think of it as a contemporary cultural divide: they like Sweet Tea, we like it straight; they favor rocking chairs, we sit on Adirondacks; they eat grits, we grit our teeth.

But every now and then, I recognize the Deep South gets a few things right. Take hospitality. No. Let me be more specific. Consider a gentleman caller.

That’s what’s about to happen at our house. In a few days time, we’ll be playing host to our college-aged daughter’s out-of-town beau. This visit has thrown me into a tizzy.

First of all, there’s the easy stuff, like maniacally getting the house ready so that he sees us in our natural habitat of photo-ready decorating merged with surgical standards of cleanliness and order. That’s a given.

The other first, which was really the first first, is the sleeping arrangements. I’m a thoroughly modern mother, which means that Winchester (not his real name but one I’m rather fond of using when referring to the young suitor) will not be literally locked in the turret room. But he will be quartered in the guest room in the attic, which means two things in our one-hundred and twenty-five year old house. Simply put, he may perish from the heat, and, should he elect to descend from his garret down to the floors reached by the air conditioning, or any other source of comfort, he must use the loudly creaking staircase.  Did I mention that I’m a light sleeper?

But who really cares about all of these sleeping arrangements when what is really important is setting the right tone for welcoming a young suitor to the family?

My brother, who married a girl from the Deep South, tells the story of how welcoming his father-in-law to be was when they first met. Steven describes walking up to the house and seeing George sitting on the porch with a shotgun across his lap. “Son,” George said, “I’d like to know your intentions with my daughter.”

George wasn’t one for idle chitchat.

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