LAUGHTER (AND A WATER BOTTLE OF VODKA) HELPED ME LET GO OF MY COLLEGE DAUGHTER

They said the second time around was going to be easier. They said that having another empty room would encourage me to fill my time with things I love.

Problem is, I love my daughter, and now she is gone.

I admit it. Another daughter, barely off to college, and I was wallowing. Unprepared for the mess, I choke on my last sip of coffee. Not that I expected her to clean up her room before she left. It was a whirlwind final week picking up last minute pharmacy items, closing bank accounts, printing out pictures, triple checking her packing list (well my packing list).

My daughter was not an organized person, often with her head in the clouds. This is what I have always loved about her. Yet, standing in her room now, feels like I have walked onto a battlefield, the remains of her eighteen years strewn mercilessly across the floor.

From inside her closet, cleats caked with mud from her last varsity soccer game call out to me. I move in to get a closer look. Like it was yesterday, I recall my own excitement playing soccer, the scars I used to collect upon my body like battle wounds. How did we get here so quickly?

On the floor, a clump of mud momentarily irritates me. All those times I had asked to leave her muddy cleats in the garage, and the same number of times I was ignored. Teenage rebellion. Or was it simply distraction that led her to defy my requests – cell phones and boys did that to her.

Turning away from her t-shirts, each holding a memory of summer camp, road trips and sports teams, I walk back to her bed where her bookcase headboard resembles a display of offerings at a second hand rummage sale. Old nail polish, eight bottles; half of them dried and caked. An unwrapped newly bought phone case and a half used bottle of saline nasal spray rests upon a notebook filled with rainy day doodles.

Dumping this, tossing that. I gain the courage to look behind her bed. Among a mess of garbage, I find her promposal poster and recall her pale shoes offsetting her blood red dress. Undeveloped prom pictures sit idle on my cell phone, reminding me of all my unfinished to do lists. Perhaps I will get to them later today, or next year.

For now, I am too busy hearing the laughter, recalling the feeling of prom night with its fairy tale moments. How we so often measure time in seemingly endless nights, thinking it will never end.

I have had enough – wallowing, and cleaning. I am about to leave it all a mess when I stumble over something.

On the floor, I pick up my favorite drawstring bag – borrowed and never returned. I sling it across my back, taking with it the contents of two half filled water bottles and a few hair bands. On my way out, I catch a glimpse above her door of the bumper sticker she had bought freshman year of high school.

“Do Something Amazing.”

While brewing a much needed second cup of coffee, I click on our latest string of text messages. How could she forget so many things? Today I am thankful for social media and my daughter. In her memory, as the ultimate recycler, I open and begin dumping the water into the plant. Proud of myself, I think, I’m not wasting water, Lia.

As it empties, a familiar smell begins to permeate the air. I stop pouring, albeit way too late. I would know that smell anywhere. At a fraternity house, late night bar crawl, or just before the last song at a wedding.

Stale alcohol.

In this moment, I have two thoughts. I can’t believe I have just watered my plant with a vodka filled Dasani bottle. And, can plants get drunk? #AskingForAFriend

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My son, barely ten years old wanders into the room as I am wiping away my tears of laughter. I glance at the plant. I could swear it just hiccupped. I wonder if it will sing bad Karaoke or drink and dial. Maybe it will just sit and chat for hours about nothing, and everything. I hide the lampshades nearby, just in case.

“What’s so funny, mom?”

Yes, I still have him keeping me honest, as that is one of his strengths, to tell it like it is. I dump the rest of the vodka/water bottles in the sink, and toss a bottle of Advil near the plant, just in case. As I walk the half-filled black garbage bag out to the street, I notice I feel better.

Laughter is the best medicine.

While it doesn’t feel right tossing her life memories, I know these are just things. I welcome the cliché that I will carry her laughter in my heart, feel her bear hugs on my skin and bring up the image in my mind of her blond curls and dimpled smile whenever I choose.

Glancing upward, I notice the sun’s stark contrast moving out the last bit of black cloud above my head. Yes, I think I will be just fine.

That night, I sit by my plant – just in case. I mean who will hold back her leaves if need be? No need for cranberry juice. We share a toast with the rest of the watered down vodka from our liquor cabinet.

After all, today, I did something amazing. Through tears and laughter, I let my daughter go.

This post was also published on Grown & Flown, group blog.

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15 SILLY (BUT VERY REAL) QUESTIONS ALL MOMS ASK THEMSELVES

As a parent of a teen, I often find myself wondering, am I missing anything with my teenage daughters? Should I be asking more questions? And then I think, of course I am missing something; I am human. The trick is to not miss the really important stuff that could happen to any of our children – depression, bullying, drug use. And I do always remind myself to ask the important questions.

Is she ok? Is he happy? Do I need to intervene?

And then there are the not so important questions that probably come up as a mom of teens, more often than we realize. It seems as the years go by, and our children grow up and change, we change, too. And like we had to pick our battles with our toddlers, when raising teens, it is healthy to let go our perfectionism and rules. But, letting ourselves off the hook can result is some strange and often funny questions we may not even realize we are asking ourselves. The ones we probably don’t ask out loud.

The questions all moms ask themselves

Here are just a few of the questions I have come to know well that all go on inside my head:

1. After stumbling upon a pile of clothes, unfolded, stuffed in our teenager’s drawer. Are these dirty or clean? If they are dirty, will it kill her to wear it again

2. Is it ok that the swear word my teenage daughter uses most, is the same one I use most?

3. While lying on the couch exhausted and I cannot get up, is it hypocritical to have pizza delivered two nights in a row when I keep reminding my teens to eat healthy?

4. Do I really need to shower every day? I mean, wasn’t deodorant specifically invented for this circumstance?

5. If I think for half a second that I am being followed on the way to the grocery store does that mean I should stop binge-watching Homeland? Is this what our kids feel like on a regular basis?

6. Is, “worrying whenever my teen goes out at night induced insomnia,” a diagnosable syndrome?

7. Maybe ketchup can count as a vegetable if we are pressed for time and did not have a chance to go to the market to pick up salad stuff. Did anyone actually hear me think that?

8. Am I completely misusing and taking advantage of the black leggings fashion trend if I wear them every day?

9. Why do I not like how much my teenagers are on the phone, but text them a lot more than is necessary? (Even while they are in class)

10. Am I weird if the last thing I think about at night is, will Reese Witherspoon will make another movie soon? I mean, come on, didn’t you see Legally BlondeWildWalk the Line?

11. Does keeping up with the Joneses have to include always buying organic, having a shed free dog like a Goldendoodle or Cockapoo, or debating vaccine use? Spoiler alert: dog hair is sometimes a condiment in our house.

13. If I don’t mind catching a cold, and then needing to stay in bed for two days, having my husband care for me, is this bad? Does this count as a sexual fantasy?

14. Did anyone actually see me wearing this outfit yesterday?

15. Can my Amazon Prime membership get revoked from overuse especially when our college sophomore has the login and pass code memorized?

Although, I have shared 15 of these sometimes silly but very real thoughts we as moms can have, I must admit, there are more.

But like many things, some things in life are truly better left unsaid.

– my essay – originally published on grownandflown.com

Pin The Tail on the Donkey

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The year is 1976. I am eight years old. It is my birthday party. Back then, kids birthday parties were easier, and much cheaper.  We are gathered in my basement, crepe paper streaming across the unfinished ceiling. My friends rushing through the never out of fashion birthday song so we can all indulge in the delicacy of home made cupcakes.

Now it is game time.  Always a crowd favorite, we begin to play, Pin the Tail on the Donkey.  For me, it was always more fun to watch others than to be the one who was blindfolded.  I tend to like to know what is in front of me. Yet, everyone gets a turn, and soon enough, the blindfold is tied securely behind my head. I am spun around, three maybe four times. Just enough to mix me up as to where I am going, but not too much that I fall down and crack my head on the cement wall.  “Okay,” someone shouts.  “Go.”

I walk forward, cautiously, my arms outreached in front of me, my fingers tightly gripping the tail with the sticker. I feel my way towards the picture of the unassuming donkey.  Finally, after what feels like an eternity, I reach the wall, relieved that I feel the paper and have not veered off course facing an exposed water pipe or worse gone in the total opposite way about to trip on the staircase. If you are the least bit perceptive, the laughter always helped with this issue, anyway.  The louder the laugher, the more you are heading in the wrong direction.

Touching the wall, I clumsily feel my way, hoping to  get it right; the exact spot where the tail is supposed to go.  “You cannot feel,” someone shouts.  “That is cheating.”  I want to shout back that I am the birthday girl and I can cheat if I want to, but I know that is not really a thing.  So I go for it. I press the tail firmly down upon the paper.  Laughter erupts as I lift my blindfold.  Both disappointment and a smile emerge simultaneously as I am the one who feels like an ass, but see it all seems funny, so it is ok.  I see that I have pinned the tail on the donkey’s head, and I shrug and hand the blindfold to the next lucky contestant on “this is a foreshadowing of the reality of life,” game.

Soon enough our birthday parties become teenage parties. And then we leave home. We set out on our journey, our hopes and dreams spinning around in our hearts and mind, and we are off.  It is our turn, each and every day we arise.  We make plans, we mark our calendars and we go about our days, filling our lives with dates, jobs, weddings, babies, and funerals. Sooner or later, we get spun around.  Traffic emerges, a love one passes away, infertility hits, a call comes from the school principal, or mother nature erupts dumping life upon us like a tornado. And there we are, our hands outstretched in front of us trying to find our way back, to the perfect spot.

That never happens.

Life is a game, and everyone gets a turn. Some people seem to take their turns slowly, with caution, and life feels hard, each and every breath, labored. And those that feel challenged look at others who have it easier .Why is life so easy for her? Why is he so successful and I struggle each and every day?  Do the ones who have it easy, simply have better inner ear equilibrium, thus spinning does not effect them as much?  Or perhaps they cheat, peering above the blindfold when nobody is looking, for their success is more important than anything else.  Maybe, they are just lucky in life.  Maybe not.  Maybe we just think some have it good, but while they are alone, when everyone has left the party, their world is anything, but easy.

Truth is, whether we move to the front or lurk behind in back, we all have moments where life is easy, and life is hard. And the less we hear the laughter from those around us, the harder life feels.  For regardless of what happens in our lives, it is not where we put the tail, but how we react to our efforts; how we feel when we take off our blindfold.

There is no reward for pinning it exactly as it is supposed to be, anyway.  Our reward does not arise from being perfect, but allowing ourselves to fumble and miss the mark.  Can we laugh?  Let ourselves off the hook?  Realizing that deep down life is all just a really intricate amazing game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and we are all doing the best we can, enables us all to breathe a bit easier. After all, just playing the game of life is courageous. Sometimes we get dizzy and fall down.  Other times, we nail it.  And still, there are the times when we think we are going in the right direction, and knock our heads against the wall. What then? We grab some ice, rest, and wait till we feel better to move on, to try again.

We know as children what it is like to laugh at our mistakes, forgive and move on.  Unfortunately, too often, when we grow, so does our judgement.  This judgment is what often keeps us locked in those chains, never trying again. We are all way too hard, both on ourselves, and each other.

For we all have bad moments, days, even lives.  Let’s take off our blindfolds, open our eyes and laugh at our mistakes.  We are far less likely to stay off course if we lighten up.  And if we start with ourselves – love ourselves, forgive ourselves, laugh at ourselves – we may just realize what a big game life is, and agree to have a bit more fun.

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Most children no longer play, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but all childhood games are just practice for the game of life. Like the old saying goes, “It is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

Let’s play the game of loving ourselves deeply, showering others with compassion, and laughing out loud as often as possible, especially when we veer off course.

We are all invited to the party, so let’s play.

Tag, you’re it.