Summer Breaks


It’s the week before graduation. Thing1 and the Big Guy are working together to disassemble a third-hand swing set that has become too tired and worn to allow even the cats to play on. The swing set arrived at the house when we did, when Thing1 was in first grade and Thing2 was on the way. This weekend, both boys are too big to use it, and watching the Big Guy and Thing1 work together as equals to take it apart and clean up the rest of the yard for next weekend is making my eyes sweaty.

Thing1’s on weekly Humira now. The levels still aren’t high enough to make a difference, and he’s using cannabis oil to handle the inflammation. I get to make the odd joke about being mom of the year for getting my kid to use pot (it’s not, it’s hemp), but it is working to a degree. He’s weaning off of Prednisone which isn’t working, still taking Lialda, which isn’t working and waiting for the next blood test to see if we’ll stick with Humira or move on to the next trial-and-error.

And he’s waiting for his life to begin.

Except a funny thing has happened in the last few weeks. In between the phone calls and the daily inquiries into his bowel movements, he’s managed to get to alumni dinners for this year’s grads. He’s helped plan and pull off a senior prank centered around screwing up a parking lot for a day. He’s scheduled a new student orientation day for college.

We don’t know if he’ll be going to college in the fall. We don’t know what his future holds. The reality is, however, even if he weren’t sick, we wouldn’t know that.

Next week his grandparents and aunt will come to see him graduate. We’ll have a small party at home with a burger bar, music and a slide show of the most embarrassing moments of his first 1.78 decades.

It’s been hot the last few days. We all laugh as we realize the snow tires just came off a week or two ago. It’s springing into summer, and, just as quickly, Thing1 will be into his ‘real’ life. He’ll take his Ulcerative Colitis with him. We’ll help him fight for as much as we can for as long as we can, but, in the long run, the bulk of the battle will be his.

Hopefully he’s heading into a long summer, but the nature of his disease is that he will see winter again. Some winters are easy. Others throw a Nor-easter at you every week until you think you’ll throw in the shovel and let the winter bury you. This winter, he learned how to dig.

Because he also learned that, for the people who can and will dig, the winter does end. It always ends.

I Know Thee

It was just beginning to snow by the time I browbeat thirteen-year-old Thing1 into a clean T-shirt and into the car last Thursday. We were headed to Hubbard Hall for a pay-what-you-will dress rehearsal of 'King Lear', and, for the first time all year, Thing1 had decided he really wanted to do homework.

“Who are you and what have you done with my son?” I asked as we got into the car. He rolled his eyes at me. Any other night, such devotion to homework would have prompted me to call a mental health professional, but we had to get to dinner before the show, and I decided not to spike the ball.

Thirteen has made Thing1 unrecognizable somedays. A winter ago on the same road, anticipating another winter Shakespeare tragedy, this same young man regaled me with the intricacies of modifying his favorite computer game. Thursday night, he kept his own council.

I asked about his day at school and got mostly monosyllabic answers to my questions. Finally, I asked the right question.

“How are you liking The Crucible?” The two of us had seen that play a year earlier at another local theatre, and I hoped the experience was enhancing his classwork.

“I'm just bored with it,” he finally answered.

“With the play?” I asked. “Or the class in general?” I thought I knew his answer. Thing1 loves math and science and considers English classes state-sanctioned torture. But I didnt know him as well as I thought.

“I'm bored with school,” he said, and my head nearly exploded with the questions that were forming. For the next fifteen minutes and then the next hour at dinner and in the theatre as we waited for King Lear to disown a loving daughter and a loyal servant only to realize he didn't understand their motives all that well, I uncovered a wealth of curiosity and dreams that my son had been quietly nurturing these last few months.

Instead of a knave bent on defying his parents' entreaties to take homework seriously, I was seeing a boy hungry for inspiration at school but determined to find it on his own if necessary. I was seeing a spark and, with it, the boy I thought I knew.

 

Just Grow

Just grow

I see him almost everyday on my way to or home from the local country store.  Clutching a newspaper purchased at the same store, running up the low, long hill at the base of our road, I know from his hair color  that this man is very likely older than I am.  But everyday I see him jogging up that hill, his relaxed smile pronounce to the world that he is not old.

He’s not the only “senior” citizen I’ve noticed lately who’s refused to retire to a rocking chair.  Mornings, I see a woman with steel grey hair and steely determination in her eyes running that road.  She keeps the same pace going down hill or up.  

I love these scenes.  I love seeing a Facebook status from a family member who may be retirement age according to some calendar but has chosen to make her own schedule while leading hiking tours in the Rockies.  I loved being part of a race whose highlights included a 92-year-old finishing a 5k for the 32nd time.  It reminds me everyday that I can choose to grow old (something I’ve been thinking about a bit more as the “change” rolls in), or I can choose to keep growing.

Un-Tunnel Vision

IMG 2078

I hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years and was more than a little nervous about the prospect of spending 3 hours riding on mountain trails – however flat they were.  The last time I was on a bike a motorist had literally run me off the road into a ditch, and, after limping my bike home, I stuck to walking.  But this has been a summer of redemption for me, and it would continue to be from the first 10 minutes of our journey.

Fortunately, you really don’t forget how to ride a bike, and my summer fitness plan – intended to make sitting in a standard-size train seat more comfortable – paid off once again.  The mechanics were in place, and we would be riding in a converted railroad bed, ensuring there would be no maniacal motorists.  Faking the absence of fear was getting easier as we got closer to the starting gate, and then the trail guide began giving us the rundown of the road we were about to travel.  

We were to start with a 1 1/2 mile ride through a tunnel with no light save for our headlights.  There would be several tunnels throughout the ride, and several of them had trenches running alongside them.  I listened and smiled, taking courage from the relaxed faces of my family, but my stomach was already beginning to churn.  

The safety warnings noted, we mounted our bikes and headed for the first tunnel.  Thirteen-year-old Jack and his eighteen-year-old cousin, already thick as thieves despite having only met a few days earlier, charged ahead.  Fearless but not reckless, Jack sped towards the tunnel.  I was still getting my bike lets and was happy to pedal more slowly.  The Big Guy was trailing our youngest son, and went between us.

The darkness closed in around us quickly.  Behind me I heard one of my nieces struggling with her own fears, and the mom in me slowed to try and comfort her.  Her father, however, was just behind us and, falling back on his twenty years of military-instilled discipline, barked at her to get moving.  It worked for both of us.  I began peddling and calling back encouragement to my niece. 

Jack and his cousin got to the end of the tunnel first and were waiting for the adults.  One by one, we emerged, blinking at the summer sun.  I was shaking a bit, but when I looked at my oldest son, there was only excitement and happiness with the day and the mountains around him.  There was no fear, and I could see there hadn’t been any.  Part of me pondered how he got so brave with a mother who constantly lets fear govern her life – and his sometimes.  The other part of me was absorbing his excitement.  

We snapped a few shots of cousins and then pedaled further.  Every mile featured breathtaking views and, often, equally breathtaking drops that seemed incredibly close to the road.  The further we traveled, however, the less I even felt the fears that would normally have me thinking about the size of the drops and what it would be like to fall from them.

The sun in the cloudless sky that framed the majestic peaks that surrounded us drenched the day’s palette in intense blues and greens.  It also brought everything into sharp focus.

Jack and his cousin remained in the lead the rest of the ride.  And, while he was busy growing the part of me that had absorbed his excitement and joy realized that I was busy being reborn. 

When Words Don’t Work

IMG_2792

We drove down on Saturday to spend the night with Jack’s aunt and uncle who live in the same town where the summer camp is being held.  Their proximity to the camp was a small source of comfort to me – I knew any real emergency would not involve Jack waiting three hours for a loved one to get to him.   My stomach still ached when I woke up Sunday morning, however.  It wasn’t the 80 degree heat at 6:00 AM that was bothering my system.  It was the knowledge that I was about to leave my first born, Jack, on his own for the first time.

Twelve-year-old Jack, excited about the week ahead at a college just the night before, was quiet when he came down to breakfast.  He ate his usual mountain of food, speaking only in answer to a direct question from me or his aunt.  Feigned stoicism has been a hallmark of his tween years, but when his little brother failed to goad him into a squabble over a Lego ship in his cereal, I asked Jack if everything was okay.

“I’m just a little nervous,” he answered, pouring a third bowl of cereal.

“You’ll do great.  You’ll do fine,” His aunt and I responded in unison, but my own worry was growing.  Was he ready for this?  I was about the same age when I spent my first summer away, but for some reason, my child seemed much younger.

The morning passed quickly, filled with a last minute haircut and shopping for toiletries.  The distraction seemed to relax him, and by the time we drove him to registration, he felt confident enough to enjoy a little eighth grade humor.

The summer camp is being held at a small college where Jack will get to indulge his computing addiction for a week.  When we got to the camp the first order of business was filing out forms and giving a deposit for his dorm key.  Paper work done, we followed paper signs with big blue arrows down the hall of the college science building toward the computer lab.

The arrows lead us around a corner and into a large room with a wall of windows.  Rows of tables weighted with the latest in computing technology filled most of the room.  As Jack noticed the games on a few of the screens and the very low-tech chess boards setup at the front of the room, he began to smile.

In less than an hour we had installed him in a dorm room and met his roommate (a one-year veteran of the camp).  We brought him back to the computer lab to say goodbyes.  Now, I was the only one feeling nervous, but it was for myself.  How was I going to spend a week without seeing his face?

All nervousness had left Jack’s face as a counselor invited him to play a computer game while he waited for the rest of the group.  I knew, for the first time, he was with other science-oriented kids, and he would be fine.  The Big Guy and I were smiling as we drove out of the college campus.

But the day’s story had just begun.

The Big Guy and I made the three hour trip home with our six-year-old.  We stopped for dinner and ice cream and settled down on the couch to try and find a new, temporary routine.  Exhaustion was helping us put the day behind us when my cell phone began beeping.  I clicked the home button, saw a Skype alert and clicked it.

“Are you there?”  It was Jack.

“Are you ok?”  I texted back.

“I think I want to come home,” he wrote.

“Are you hurt?”  I asked.  “Is anyone teasing you?  Do you feel scared?”  He answered no to my questions, and I knew he was going through what all kids experience on their first night away from home.  Making sure that he felt safe, even if he was already homesick, the Big Guy and I talked and texted him to let him know we were supporting him.

“Words just don’t help right now,” he wrote after a time.   I knew they didn’t.  I knew the only thing that would help was for him to get through the first night and see things from the fresh perspective of a seasoned camper.

Technology was a blessing and a curse in the unfolding of this story.  Once, when summer camps controlled all communications, allowing only mail and care packages in and emergency phone calls out, the parents may have been aware of the first night fears.  The ability to connect from anywhere at anytime, however, ensured that we felt his angst as keenly as he did.  As we texted good night, I also wondered if the ease of connection was less a safety net and more a crutch.

I spent most of the night with my phone on, waiting for a midnight text and worrying how he was doing.  Most likely, he’s eating breakfast right now and getting into his day, his parents once again an afterthought – as we should be this week.  I’m still watching the text screen, hoping for a positive update, but knowing that at this moment that ‘No news is good news’, is a lot more than a tired cliche.