Friday, July 29, 2011

Ex-husband, voodoo dolls and working it all out

My ex-husband was Facebook-chatting with our son, 22, today as I sat at my desk and listened to my ex’s end of the conversation. We were working to help Scott, who is studying overseas for a few weeks, mend a little blip in his finances. Ron and I were both perusing our son’s account online when I saw something that could lead us to a solution. Ron called the bank, then called me back while he was still chatting online with Scott. The problem had been solved!

Before we hung up, Ron read me the line he had typed to Scott before the end of their conversation: “Thank your mother, not me. She is the one who fixed this.”

Nice of him to give me credit, yes. It’s even nicer considering that 10 years ago, he would rather have committed hara-kiri – guaranteed – than say anything nice about me. Think I’m exaggerating? A couple of years ago, I learned that he once had a Lisa voodoo doll.

My ex and I went through – put our kids through – a horrible divorce. What’s past is past, but suffice it to say it takes two to mutilate a relationship, and I take full responsibility for my role. As I’ve said many times, and I know this is not a popular opinion: Divorce among couples with children should be much more difficult to obtain in cases that don’t involve some type of abuse -- substance, emotional, physical.

With all due respect to husband No. 2, with whom I am very happy, the divorce is the foremost regret of my life, primarily because of the way it devastated our kids.

At the time, I bought into the adage, “If you’re happy, your kids will be happy.” I’m here to tell you that’s a giant crock. I’m also here to tell you that if you get divorced, chances are pretty good you won’t be happy, at least not for a long time, because your kids will be miserable.

But I digress.

It’s been 13 years since Ron and I separated. In the beginning, the tension was so thick and the feelings were so raw that we argued everywhere – at school events, at our kids’ ballgames. I could feel hate emanating from my pores, and I could pretty much see it emanating from his. Instead of dealing with my feelings and working toward communicating in a civilized, healthy way for the sake of my son and daughter, I hated. I hated loudly, and I hated often.

My hatred was not directed solely at Ron, but also at his new wife – the woman I saw as taking my place, at least part of the time, in the lives of my children. I am ashamed now when I think of the things I said about her, usually with my kids in full earshot. I was panicked and grasping at anything to make me feel better – in this case, disparaging someone I believed was encroaching on my relationship with my children.

Don’t get me wrong – friends would call and tell me about comments they had overheard at school events or ballgames, and it’s safe to say I wasn’t the only one doing the trash-talking. But, truth be told, I kept it going. Looking back, I remember that my kids’ stepmother once extended an olive branch on behalf of both her and my ex. I accepted it, but I pretty quickly snapped that branch in half and ran it through the wood-chipper.

I wish I could say I woke to a revelation one day – that my Catholic upbringing had finally caught up with me and I was willing to repent, or that I simply re-engaged intellectually and realized my words prohibited a functional relationship with my children’s father. Truly, I think three things gradually began to alter my behavior: my children’s requests that the fighting stop; a desire to clear the cobwebs and start over; and time.

So eventually, I started being nicer. Rest assured no hugging was involved, but gradually, I initiated some civility. “Hello” gave way to “warm, isn’t it?", which grew into conversations about the children’s activities. As months turned into years and I grew into a life in which I felt like myself again, the feelings that were vestiges from my old life became less important, and I was surprised one day to find myself standing next to my ex and his wife at a ballgame, chatting as I would chat with any other parents on the sidelines.

And gradually as well, I began to see my ex as I should have tried to long ago – a partner in raising children who are at the center of both our lives. I noticed the relief on the faces of my kids as we began to be able to discuss their other household without the presence of the sarcasm that had been an inherent part of my conversations for so long.

It took some time, but we mended -- as an ex-couple as well as a family. Not an ex-family, but a current one; we’ll always be the parents, although we live in different houses, and our kids will always be our kids. No one else has our history, and no one else will ever love our children as totally and unconditionally and all-consumingly as we do.

Funny things tend to happen when you let go of the bad stuff. As clich├ęd as it sounds, hatred breeds hatred, and it isn’t worth the implications to your mental and physical health.

Thirteen years after the divorce, what I see when I look at my ex-husband is this: a great guy who would lay down his life for his kids; a caring, decent person on whom I can always count to be a co-parent and ally. I adore his family, and he has always been close to mine. My husband likes him, and he likes my husband. My ex’s wife and I also get along. My kids care very much about her kids, and vice versa.

Every divorced couple, obviously, can’t find a way to function. I have a nephew to whom I’m very close, and his parents, 10 or so years after their divorce, still are openly acrimonious. Not only can they not be in the same room, but they can’t communicate, period.

What has that done to my nephew? He’s 18 now, and he’s pulling away. He’s done with the hate and the sarcasm and the drama, and he’s ready to forge a life of his own. I was no quick study, but I pray his parents won’t wait much longer to put everything aside and salvage what’s left.

Parenthood doesn’t end when kids turn 18; in fact, it perhaps becomes even more challenging. (As my sister has always said: “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems.”)

We’ve been fortunate to have been spared any giant, terrible issues, but if any arise, I know this: It took us a while to get to this place, but my kids will always, always be able to count on their dad and me to be there, together in spirit, to help them find their way in the world.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

If you're on the fence about your class reunion, go. Just go.

Thirty years melted away faster than I could have imagined.

And here's the bizarre thing: Nearly everyone looked the same as I remembered. After three decades. How is that possible?

My 30th class reunion was this weekend. Our class meets every five years, and I'd only made two previous gatherings; one year, I was getting married. Another year, I was having a baby. And frankly, I had never made attendance a huge priority; I still live in the town from which I graduated high school, so I reasoned that I frequently ran into former classmates. So what was the big deal?

It turns out many big deals -- big observations, anyway -- came out of the past two evenings. Here are just a few of them.
  • With few exceptions, everyone was just so genuinely nice. Seriously. The people I never really spoke to in high school because I figured they were conceited or fake or had nothing in common with me? I guess I was a pretty big idiot 30 years ago, because some of the people I enjoyed the most are the ones with whom I never shared a word from 1977 to 1981. The moral of the story: Never assume.
  • Girls who are currently in high school should make a beeline to date the boys who are not quarterback of the football team. Nothing against our quarterback, but he's no Jeff F. Not to embarrass you if you are reading this, Jeff, but you are such an awesome guy that we should all have vied for your attention back in the day. Case in point: Your regard for your lovely wife, who attended the reunion with you despite the fact that she is in the midst of a serious health situation. "I want you to meet my wife," you said to several of us. "She is amazing." Well, Jeff, so are you. Shame on some of us for not realizing that 30 years ago.
  • Along the same lines, some of the women who didn't call attention to themselves back in the day are drop-dead gorgeous now. This, I loved: I watched a couple of guys ogling a tall, beautiful classmate with a willowy figure and sculpted cheekbones. And I heard one saying to the other: "Who is that?" Guys: It's someone who never once had a date to a school dance because she was overweight.Your loss entirely.
  • A guy in our class who happens to be gay and married to a man brought his hilarious, delightful husband to the reunion. And they were greeted warmly by all, as they should have been.
  • A classmate who has struggled mightily against mental illness for years made the difficult decision to attend his first reunion. "After some things I read online, I thought maybe I would feel comfortable at this one," he said. He left early, but I so hope he enjoyed his time with us. What a brave, brave guy.
  • This feeds the soul like nothing else: laughing hysterically with one of your best high-school girlfriends about such nonsense as the time that you inexplicably crawled out of government class, or the time you choreographed a dance to a rap song, only to be rejected from your senior variety show. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.) Sigh.
  • There is nothing in the world that can compare to the way you feel when you look around and realize you are surrounded not only by your high-school classmates, but your grade-school friends -- the ones you've known since you were 6, the ones who knew your parents and siblings and spent the night at your house and were your "secret Santa" at Christmastime. Those faces choked me up. (And Julie Diaz, if you're reading this -- you come home now!)
  • Everyone seemed to spend a moment looking at the memory board that pictured our deceased classmates. They were indeed part of our reunion, and I hope their families know that we tried to honor them.
As I've written before, I didn't love high school. I was unsure of myself and didn't know where I belonged. But this past weekend, I realized I belonged exactly where I was -- with the people who helped shape me.

Whether I was your best friend or never even said "hello" to you in the hall: Thank you for a wonderful weekend that I hope resulted your humming bad early-'80s songs all the way home. See you in five years.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blaming Amy Winehouse's parents? Not so fast.

I can't say I was a huge Amy Winehouse fan. I was familiar with one of her albums and I liked it a lot, but I can't say I spent a lot of time thinking about her or her reported drug problems. Yet when the news came today that she had died, I felt very unsettled and sad.

I have a good friend who tends to see life as very black and white. We were talking about the reports that Winehouse had died, and my friend remarked: "I heard her parents didn't even try to get her to rehab. In her song 'Rehab," she even says, 'My daddy says I'm fine.' I'll bet they're sorry now."

Ah, yes. Here we go, blaming the parents -- even though Winehouse was an adult who obviously had been supporting herself for quite some time, and had been married and divorced. Say her parents wanted her to, indeed, go to rehab -- in fact, she reportedly had been in and out of treatment many times. What were they supposed to have done? Take away her car? Ground her?

Our relatively small community, Johnston, experienced an overdose-related loss a few weeks ago. The young man was 21 and had been an addict since high school; once his parents were aware of the problem, they did everything experts advised them to do. They sent him to treatment programs. They participated in the counseling sessions at the inpatient facilities that tried to help him. They supported him, but didn't support his addictions. He was given unconditional love and countless opportunities to build a future.

And yet he overdosed. Why? Because when push came to shove, his parents couldn't force him to do something he didn't want to do: stop using drugs.

We all know drugs are ridiculously available, and many kids love them; just this week, I heard of a college honor student, a clean-cut, high-achieving woman, who is in treatment for heroin addiction.What allows some kids to be able to stay away from controlled substances while others embrace them? If I knew that, I'd run Dr. Drew Pinsky out of business.

Experts say the culprit may be some combination of environment and genetics, and that makes a lot of sense. I also believe plain old internal fortitude has something to do with it; sure, it would be great to be able to rely on a substance that would make me feel relaxed when I wanted to feel relaxed, or give me energy when I need it. Thankfully, most of us understand that those effects are obtained at too high a risk, so we abstain.

But take a young person who perhaps has some sort of genetic predisposition to addiction. Give her drugs. Allow her to enjoy them. Keep in mind scientists say young people's brains are not quite fully "cooked" until the young people turn 25, and that compounds the problem: Kids think they're invincible. They are certain the bad things that happen to others won't happen to them. So they drink or smoke or use one more time, because there's always tomorrow.

Sadly, for Amy Winehouse and her family, there's no tomorrow. Blame Winehouse's fame; blame her money and her friends and her hangers-on and our society as a whole. But don't blame her parents. Chances are they're on their knees, with "If only I had..." running through their heads on an endless loop. Say prayers, if you're inclined; donate money to addiction research. But don't blame Amy Winehouse's parents, because it would be all too easy for that child to be yours.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dogging the Duggars, Part Deux

So here we go again with the Duggars. The blog post I wrote a couple of weeks ago -- the one in which I urged these parents of 19 kids to raise their own children, not hand the little ones off to their older teens -- generated quite a few responses, and not all of them were positive. One in particular asked the valid question, after speculating that I’m jealous of Michelle Duggar and her prolific womb: “If you hate the show so much, why do you watch?”

First, I don’t hate the show. And second, even if I did, I'd still watch; I don’t expose myself only to things I like. I enjoy watching shows that make me think, and this one does.

In this age of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, I bristle mightily at the “family values” contingent -- but I also want to understand it. In some ways, I get what motivates the Duggars; they're doing what they feel their own particular brand of Christianity is compelling them to do. I'm all about spirituality, and I’m all about values -- personal values, ethical values, values I’ve passed on to my own two kids over the years. We’re big on treating others with respect, even if those others possess values that are far different from our own.

So I respect the Duggars and their right to live their lives the way they see fit. I respect their commitment to their religion, even if I happen to believe it's pretty darned extremist, and the fact that they're supporting their kids on their own. But I can also express my opinion about the way they do things, as the family has chosen, by being on television, to give me a forum to do so.

I sat through a Duggar mini-marathon after publishing the post that drew the ire of some readers. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being a little too hard on the family -- that an in effort to write an entertaining post, I hadn’t resorted to being too flippant and dismissive of Jim Bob, Michelle and their 19 kids.

My conclusion: Nope, I wasn’t too hard on them. Others have every right to admire and emulate the Duggars; I also, then, have the right to believe that while I don’t think the psyches of any of the younger children -- or any of the male children -- are being harmed in any horrific way, the family’s five oldest daughters are the casualties of what seems to be a competition to produce the country’s largest brood.

To recap: Michelle has a baby roughly every 18 months to two years. Once she has the child, she’s -- by her own admission -- the baby’s “buddy” for only about the first six months of its life. After those six months, she turns the child over to one of his or her older sisters, who completes the hands-on raising of the child.

Of course, Mom and Dad are on hand to provide financially, to offer an occasional kiss or side-hug or comment, and to somewhat oversee the whole circus. But the young women are in the trenches, and – here’s the thing. They don’t have any other options; their family's religious and societal beliefs preclude the possibility of any professions for them beyond wife and mother.

One of my high-school friends, a woman I respect a great deal, disagreed vehemently with my last post. The woman, A., pointed out that in some cultures, older children are heavily involved in raising younger ones, and that the societal values that I hold dear -- the right of a young person, for instance, to go to college and make his or her way in the world -- may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

I gave A.’s opinions a great deal of thought, and I respect them. I won’t give on my point, though, that because Jim Bob and Michelle were able to choose, as young adults, the paths that would be before them, their daughters deserve that same option.

And here’s what solidifies my opinion most. You can’t possibly make me believe those young women are enjoying what they’re doing. Here are a few illustrations to support that belief:
  • With few exceptions, the girls look miserable each time they’re on camera.
  • They’re often short with the little kids -- through no fault of their own. Folks, there are a lot of little kids in this family, and their behavior is typical of a horde of little kids. It’s loud in that house, and things are sometimes sort of dirty, and the kids sometimes do things that aren’t terribly safe. Nerves have to be a little jangled from time to time -- and besides, these young women are raising kids that don’t belong to them. No doubt they love their siblings, but the parent-child bond that can help see a mother or father through tough times just isn’t there.
  • Some of the little ones seem to have attachment issues. Not long ago, one of the little girls was crying; her mother advised her to “go find (big sister) Jana.” When my own favorite Duggar, a rambunctious, smart 5-year-old named Johannah, had the flu, she sought comfort from, again, poor Jana. When older sister Jill was boarding a plane to travel with her mom to the delivery of her older brother’s baby, one of the other little girls, Jennifer, panicked about Jill's departure and screamed for her until she was almost sick. (Dad Jim Bob, mind you, was within reach the entire time.)
  • Michelle talks about child-raising in the past tense. “(Daughter) Jessa runs a much tighter ship than I ever did,’” Michelle says of her 19-year-old daughter’s “parenting” skills. (Hmmm, sorry, Michelle -- your youngest is 18 months. You still have a big ol' ship to run.)
What a ton of pressure to place on the back of young girls who, in my opinion, should be living in dorm rooms, working part-time jobs, downloading music on iTunes and making regular visits to the mall.

Here’s what I’d like to see happen, in all seriousness. Jim Bob and Michelle, give the young women some options. Allow them to apply for jobs, take college classes, learn a trade, whatever. If they decide, on their own, to remain at home and care for their siblings, then so be it ... but give them the choice. Being moms-in-training is valid and honorable – if it’s what your daughters want.

We purport, as a society, to be incensed with the government of Saudi Arabia for not allowing women to drive and requiring them to be "guarded" by males when they’re in public. But when a family in northwest Arkansas doesn’t allow its women the rights we’ve all rightly come to expect, we condone the situation in the name of “family values.”

Just because it’s happening right here -- and the young women are camera-ready -- doesn’t make it less wrong.

(Note: For those of you who want to check this out for yourselves, “19 Kids and Counting,” the Duggars’ series, is on TLC at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Central Standard Time. Episodes also are available for free on YouTube and Hulu.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy birthday, Dad.

My dad was always funny about his birthday.

Dad was not one to talk much about his upbringing, so I don’t know how birthdays were celebrated when he was young. During the time I knew him, though, he always expected his birthday to be a pretty big deal.

Achieving that wasn’t much of a stretch; in our family, we frequently joked that we celebrated “birthday week.” (My birthday is in December, so for me, it was more like “birthday month.”) First was the school party featuring the Bringing of the Treats; next was dinner with the family on your real birthday, and last was the “kid party,” usually held on the weekend closest to the big day.

For the adults, things were usually a little more subdued, but Dad still expected to be king for the day. During the course of his life, my sister organized a couple of surprise parties for him, and both times, he wasn’t the least bit shocked. “Of course you’re all here – it’s my birthday!” he would say, making no effort to feign humility.

My poor sister probably still rues the day several years ago when she suggested combining the family’s many summer birthday parties into one large celebration. My dad went along with it, but grudgingly; he had no desire to share. When I was pregnant with Caroline and mentioned that I wanted to give birth on his birthday, he said, “It’s OK if you don’t. That way we can have our own.” To his relief, I missed my goal by a day.

He was also funny about others' birthdays, including his children's. He was pretty good at remembering the grandchildren's, but when it came to my sister and me, for the life of him, he couldn't get the dates straight. We enjoyed giving him a hard time about that; after all, he had only two kids and they were born 20 years apart, almost to the day. "All I need to remember is MY birthday," he'd say with a chuckle.

I consistently dreaded my dad’s birthday. I feel terrible saying that now, but to point out that he was hard to please really isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. You’ve heard of the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which the mother refuses to accept a birthday card that one of her daughters had created in haste? She’s got nothing on my dad. You’d hand him a gift, watch him open it, and wait for him to say, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” or “I’m going to have to take this back. I’ll never use it.” If you were lucky, he’d throw in a cursory “thank you” first – but usually only if his wife reminded him.

Toward the end of Dad’s life, I had finally resigned myself to buying him practical, consumable birthday presents – car-wash gift certificates, gift cards to Dairy Queen, and maybe even a few lottery tickets here and there. It was one of those presents that made my blood run cold a few years ago, though, and helped me realize just how much trouble might lie ahead of us.

I had gotten him a gift card to his favorite fast-food restaurant, one he and his wife frequented probably once a week, and he stared at it with a puzzled look on his face. “Wendy’s?” he said, looking at me with wide eyes. “There’s no Wendy’s in Des Moines.” There were at least four at the time, and he had eaten lunch at one the previous day.

On Dad’s last birthday, almost a year ago, I bought him sweat pants and sweatshirts, combing most of the Targets in the area for the precise brand, color and style he liked. He was exercising daily at that time, going with my sister to the gym in the senior-living facility into which he and his wife had moved the previous year, and he liked zip-front-style sweatshirts to wear over his t-shirts. Recalling his reaction to the gift makes me chuckle: “Jesus, Lisa, do you know how many of these I already have?”

When a person dies, a birthday simply fades away; the date no longer is a birthday, but a birth anniversary. Something tells me Dad wouldn’t like that, but he needn’t worry – with his attitude toward his own birthday, it will be forever impossible to relegate that day to anything but Charlie Lavia Day. I so wish he had made it to 92, even if that would have meant giving him another present he would have hated. I think that deep down, the presents really didn’t matter to him that much; the adoration was the important thing.

We rarely got the gifts right, Dad, but I know you know how much we cared. Go easy on the folks up there, and remember to say “thank you,” even if they get the cake flavor wrong. I’ll be baking a lemon one down here in your honor.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't blame me. Blame my cell phone.

Was I this crazy before cell phones? I really don’t think so.

Last night, I talked via Skype with my son, who is studying in London for six weeks. He’s been there for a week, and it was great to see him on the computer; he looked great and seemed happy. He talked to the dog, who clearly didn’t understand why he could see and hear his master, but couldn’t find him in the room. So we enjoyed the hilarity and were having a fun conversation when, suddenly, the mood changed.

“We’re going to Dublin for the weekend – Thursday to Sunday,” Scott said. “I probably won’t have an easy way to talk to you till I get back.”

My adrenaline surged, and I fired off a barrage of questions: Who’s going? Where are you staying? Do you have enough money? Do you know how to exchange dollars for pounds or Euros? Will your computer be locked up safely?

And then I asked the stupidest question of all: “Is there an adult over there you can go to with any questions you might have?”

He chucked and said, “Uh, Mom? I’d go to myself.”

Of course, because, you see, he is an adult. By the time he’s home from overseas, he’ll be three days shy of 23.

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I constantly have to fight my tendency to be a helicopter parent. (Actually, in my case “helicopter” is probably too kind. What would that make me – a Hovercraft parent, maybe?) Primarily, I blame my genetic makeup. But I also blame cell phones.

Cell phones simply make things too easy for parents like me. When I was in college, I called home once a week, from a landline, and wrote letters the rest of the time. Communicating with folks two hours away took some effort and also was expensive, so it was kept to a minimum.

But now, with the press of one button, I’m connected to my kids whenever I need or want to speak to them. We found out prior to Scott’s departure that his phone wouldn’t work in London, but then he discovered how easily we could Skype, and via the computer, we’ve connected daily, either by video chat or email. That’s been fine.

But Dublin? With no contact? How will that work?

In all fairness to my OCD tendencies, I can somewhat justify my fears; remember Natalie Holloway? How about Amanda Knox? Both were out of the country when they allegedly made unwise decisions that led to tragic consequences. I’ve always read that young people’s brains aren’t fully developed till they’re 25, so I’m probably wise to not assume my kids are always going to think things through entirely.

At the same time, though, as Scott puts it: “I don’t want to die as much as you don’t want me to die, so I place a pretty high priority on taking care of myself.”

I imagine all parents eventually accept the realization that no matter how diligently they try, they can’t keep their kids safe 100 percent of the time. Many parents apparently reach that decision far earlier than I have, but nonetheless, I’m resolving to get there.

I had dinner a couple of weeks ago with my former father-in-law, and as we chuckled over my hyper-protective tendencies, he told a story of my former mother-in-law, who would wait up for her teenage and young-adult children while expressing her frustration that her husband was able to go to sleep without worry.

“Shirley, you can wait up as long as you want, but eventually, you’ll have to fall asleep,” my former father-in-law said. “But remember, God never sleeps. After you’ve gone to bed, He’ll still watch over them. So take advantage of that, and get some rest.”

Perhaps I’ll have to remind God to take a glance over at Dublin during the coming days. In the meantime, Scott’s not leaving London till tomorrow night; there’s time for one more Skype conversation. After all, someone has to remind him to pack his wallet and his passport, right?

Yes, old habits die hard. But, hey … I’m trying.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Memory Board

I've been meeting with a few former classmates in preparation for our 30th class reunion, which is scheduled for later this month. I was signed up to help organize the gathering, but because the meetings began in earnest around the time my dad was very ill, I didn't pull my weight. So to make amends with the folks who have been working so hard and demonstrate my appreciation for their understanding, I volunteered a couple weeks ago to create and donate the Memory Board.

The Memory Board is a sheet of foam board onto which I've crafted a memorial to the members of our class who have passed away. The members of the West Des Moines Dowling Class of 1981 are all 47 or 48 now, and we've lost 10 people.

When you think of the raw numbers, losing 10 people in a class of 507 doesn't sound like many, but we're not all that old -- besides, I dare you to look into the faces of these people, as I've been doing the past few days as I've added some finishing touches to the board, and still maintain that losing 10 people is not a huge deal.

One person died before we graduated. Unlike many in our class, I remember him; Joe was very quiet, but we were in the same homeroom and for some reason, I always tried to draw him out. He was tall and sweet and from a small town, and he drowned on the fourth of July.

We had no deaths in the '80s, but in the '90s, they began, continuing until last year. Cancer, traffic accidents, suicides. Substance abuse claimed at least one member of our class. Another was murdered out of state.

There they are -- sweet Neil, whom everyone loved because he was just so darned nice. Susie, the grade-school friend I lost track of when we reached high school. Anna, who was beautiful and funny; in one of my yearbooks, she signed, "Why aren't we better friends? We seem like we're a lot alike. After all, we're both ITALIAN!" Indeed.

Cute Chris, cute Stephan. Mike, who had special needs; everyone cared about and tried to include him. Mary Pat, with her gorgeous wardrobe, somehow had even managed to make her school uniform look sophisticated. Kathleen, the band girl I never knew. Curt, who had always looked sad.

I look at the faces on the board, and kids look back at me. The photos are from our high-school yearbooks, black and white and grainy. Everyone is smiling. No doubt they all believed they'd be back for every reunion we ever held.

I imagine everyone at the reunion will look at the board and wonder how many faces will be added by our 35th. Statistically, as we all near and pass 50, our health risks will increase. We refer to ourselves as middle-aged, but if this is truly the middle of our lives, we'll be around till we're in our 90s, and that likely won't be the case for most of us.

With just a couple of exceptions, the people whose pictures look back at me from the Memory Board are not ones I knew well. I guess it's my goal, then, to make up for lost time later this month. Many of the 100-plus former classmates coming to the reunion are not close friends of mine. If we're adding their faces to the board in five years, I hope I'll be able to say that within the last few years, I had gotten to know them.

And if my own face is added, I hope perhaps a few more of my classmates will be able to say the same about me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bon voyage! And ... where did the time go?

Once upon a time, I had a little boy. He was smart and sensitive and adventurous and inquisitive, but he was also sometimes fearful. His dad and I liked to think his fears were brought about by intelligence; he was smart enough, we reasoned, to know that accidents could happen -- that power lines could fall down and amusement-park rides could break, that tornadoes could damage houses and pets could run away. His "what ifs" became a part of life, and we tried to calm and reassure him as best we could.

On his first day of kindergarten, below, his fears were front and center. What if I don't get to see my friends? What if my teacher doesn't like me? What if I get lost? What if I forget to get off the bus at my stop? But he strapped on his backpack and he soldiered on. And as the weeks and months and years passed, the fears went the way of Sonic the Hedgehog, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the red Power Ranger.

Today, he strapped on a backpack for a different reason; he's 22, and he's heading to London. Sadly, he's seen throughout the course of the last dozen years that sometimes, fears do come true. Parents can divorce. Pets can become injured. Friends and grandparents can die. But he also has seen that still, you soldier on -- every day you're fortunate enough to wake up, that's a day to soldier on. And he has.

He doesn't like to fly, and the trip from Chicago to London is a long one. Much too old, in his mind, to say, "I'm afraid," he voiced his nervousness in other ways. "I hate long flights." "I'm sure dreading that overnight flight." "I don't know what I'll do that whole time."

And I reminded him today, as I used to remind him all those years ago, "You'll be safe."

The thing is, he really didn't need me to remind him. I needed to remind myself. Because he's the one who, in the car on the way to the airport, said, "It just occurred to me that you're not going to be able to text or call me for six weeks."

Then he smiled, and it was quite possibly the broadest smile I've ever seen.