Holding Back Time with a Chair and a Whip!

 

Three final days.

At the moment Paul and I feel like lion tamers holding back time which ferociously growls at us. This weekend will be so full of joy and laughter as Alex finally comes home after graduation and his summer transition to NYC businessman. A newbie at work, vacation time is hard to come by, but he was willing to travel roundtrip 11 hours just to be on the ground three days. He was willing because this is a final moment in time, as all are, but this one is special.

On Saturday we will celebrate Alex’s achievements and new adventure as a working adult living in NYC. We will watch Paul blow out the birthday candles marking his 45th year being awesome. But the biggest reason we all are together is because we can be. That is what makes it special, because soon that will not always be the case.

This Monday while BBQs and school supply shopping happen all around the US, Paul and Jennifer will be facing the enemy called passing time . The lion tamers will set down their chairs and embrace what is coming, empowered with the memories of 25 years of parenting. On Monday, we will kiss Alex goodbye and send him back to his adult world 3,000 miles away. And on Monday, we will move Benjamin to school for the last time.

“How did four years go by so quickly?” you may ask. We are actually asking how 25 years can go so fast! No stranger to the moving kids to college this one punches us in the gut and not simply because he is our last. In truth, we have the understanding that nine months is a mere whisper in time and if you aren’t quiet you can miss those whispered memories altogether.

In November, Benj will be assigned his position and duty in the Army. In March he will be given his orders. In May he will graduate. And at that moment he will raise his hand and commission as an officer and his time will belong to something greater… it will belong to his dream. That is why Alex is here… so we, as a family, can be the greater for a few more moments.

On Monday, Alex returns to walking out his dream, Benj runs full-force into the last vestiges of time that stands between him and his third-grade dream, and V (and Craig) finalize applications for their dreams and future. And this Mom and Dad, who were young 19-year-old kids wondering what they were getting into, will sit back and shed a few tears. The whispers of memories will play in their minds, as the sounds of laughter and talks of dreams in childlike voices float by.

#5 Today is only the beginning, it is not the end.

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So today I am sitting in our hotel’s business center typing away. Our flight leaves in a few hours and the goodbyes are imminent. Paul and Alex have spent the morning moving all of his boxes to his new apartment while the rain comes down. Quite a few hiccups, a whole lot of prayer and a bit of stress have filled our morning as we once again see God come through in the last seven hours… never late but we would have appreciated it a bit earlier. Yet, that sounds like God, drawing us out a bit more in faith, showing us that no matter how it looks He still can make something out of nothing.

 

I wish I could report to you that now everything is all in place and it will be a cake walk for Alex from here. Unfortunately life doesn’t work that way. There is still paperwork and all of the unknowns ahead as he begins work at a new job, develops relationships with his new roommates, tries to maintain contact with the friends that he has grown to love, and begins to lean deeper on God and not himself. One thing is for certain though and hasn’t change one bit, his Mom and Dad love him dearly. We will stand in the wings and cheer him on, always ready if he needs a quick change or a moment of refreshening.

 

We know for all of our children that these are the greatest steps that we could ever desire for them; a new marriage, a new career and life in the city of one’s dreams, and stepping into the passion that has filled one’s every waking moment since third grade. But for Mom and Dad, we wish we could slow it all down and gather them to us one more time and say, “Don’t worry. We will take care of it all, just rest.”

I guess that is God’s job now. In reality it has been His all along and we were blessed enough to be along for the magnificent ride!

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#4 And then Paul cried…

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On Wednesday night after a wonderful production of “Jersey Boys” my son and I sat on the patio of one of Broadway’s restaurants. Alex began to talk about everything that he was undertaking by starting his life anew. He was still waiting for news on signing a lease and we were leaving on Friday. All of his belongings were in a storage unit in the Bronx and the one thing he really wanted was help moving. Unfortunately every time we asked a question it only led down a rabbit hole of more unanswered questions from potential new roommates and faceless leasing agents. We were playing the waiting game, but Alex was the one that was shouldering the load as a newly minted working adult.

To say this makes it easier for a Mom and Dad is completely false. After spending the evening listening to Alex and cancelling all our plans for the next two days in order to be ready at a moment’s notice, we finally fell into bed. A few hours later I was awoken by a huge rarity, my husband was tearful. I know it may seem that Paul and I just sit around weeping uncontrollably between the hours of 2:00 am – 5:00 am, but it actually is quite odd. The last time I remember my husband this way was when he left Alex at the Princeton train station to start his life at university.

Alex's last look back as Paul left him in September of 2010

Alex’s last look back as Paul left him in September of 2010

As I became coherent and asked if he was feeling sick, it dawned on me what was really happening. Apparently he had been up writing Alex a card and responding to the lovely thesis dedication, while sharing what all of these two weeks have meant to him. Paul looked at me and said, “We’ve never been here before.” It took me awhile to understand what he was saying.

Yes, we have had a child graduate from college, yes we had visited NYC before. Yet we had never been parents of a young man that chose to begin his life in another part of the world and had to face it physically alone. All of our children have travelled and living in another country has been attempted and conquered, why was this so different? During each of those times abroad our children knew it was only a matter of months and then they could return to the familiarity of college, a place they felt they belonged. Today all of our children are leaping out of the nest without the safety net of a university life to return to. Paul spoke of Benjamin, who will be in a similar but even more intense place in a year, when he graduates and commissions in the U.S. Army. In just a matter of days of our return to L.A. we will head again to the airport to drop him off in his fatigues and wait weeks to hear how he is doing in Kentucky.

No wonder we were a mess. We were standing on the sidelines of our children’s lives watching them attempt flying on their own. As parents who started very young and had to rely on ourselves, it is quite painful to watch your children begin their own journey. You want to stop the clock, hold them close and tell them that you will take care of everything. Unfortunately when your children’s dreams are bigger than you and God is taking them on their own adventure you must step back. You must let them take the reins and learn to trust God the way you have in the past 25 years, essentially you must let them grow.

But growing pains are real and your kids are just as torn about the changes as you. Part of them wants to “just buy a plane ticket and come home”, but some thing bigger pulls them forward… and that stretching hurts.

Tomorrow “Last hours to lift off… for all of us!”

#3 The Clock Starts Ticking Down

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In that quiet room with the rain coming down outside Alex shared with us in short starts and stops what had to be done. Bear in mind that necessity due to deadlines crashes relentlessly with the weight of emotions for these students. Parents and family members want answers and students have so much going through their mind that a “TILT” sign should register above their heads. Though process time is what is truly needed, it is denied by the ticking clock. Craig had just landed in NYC and we all had to move… now.

Paul and Alex went out into the storm to take V to the train station, then headed to his dorm room. I sat in the empty dorm room and let the tears fall. Everything in me wanted to buy back another year for Alex, to keep him in this marvelous place that had grown so dear to him. Paul returned and handed me a book. It was the bound copy of Alex’s thesis, the night before he had written a long dedication to his father on the first page. Those words are what every father hopes his son would think of him when he becomes a man.  It was another glorious gut-clencher for two parents who were really trying to not bawl in front of their son.

In the next few hours we took direction from our son, who had worked out everything in his head days before but had told us nothing about his plans. (Something a detailed, organizer such as myself feels most comfortable doing. NOT!) An exercise in patience for this “All Right Let’s Get This Done” mom.

Paul picked up the rental van, Benj and I boxed up clothes and memories, Alex went through his desk and valiantly came to grips with what stays, what goes and all the questions that lie ahead.image

All around us, bleary-eyed graduates did the same thing, answering questions posed by well-meaning parents while facing the the fact that this was really the end. It was overwhelming and there was a deadline… no one could stop the clock. Imagine 1,400 type-A personality leaders and over-achievers trying to leave the bubble that is college all at the same time.

imageMorrie Schwartz once talked about how it was amazing that the world still went on around you even though your world had been dramatically changed and begins to move in slow motion. That was our last couple hours at Princeton. The rest of the world and FB still continued and posts flew of food, funny cat videos and smiling selfies, while our son sat in his empty dorm room facing the future and all the questions of the unknown. And all we could do was watch.

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Tomorrow I will share what happened in the last two days of NY, when we had to leave our son to go it alone once again.

#2 What FB didn’t tell you…

What FB didn’t tell you:

 

Three days before we left for the East Coast my husband woke at midnight to find me having a blessed “ugly cry”. As most husbands will attest, this is a sheer moment of confusion even panic. “Why is she crying? Did she get a call or text? Or God forbid, I did something wrong…” The ugly cry was simply a result of everything that was coming and the dam had sprung a leak.

 

It’s hard to smile through the phone as your son reveals that he has landed a job that will keep him 3,000 miles away in the biggest, most competitive city in the world. That our other son, Benj hadn’t received an approval from the Army to leave and the possibility of this trip I had been planning for two years might be missing a piece of my heart was also weighing with me. I knew if he was denied we would all “understand” and put on a good front, but we hadn’t been together in months and the future promises quite a bit more separation. Add the logistical nightmare of stepping back and allowing three “adult” children to be adults and try desperately to not do anything that could be construed as “putting pressure” on them and the things they want to do on the trip, while still getting “family time”. Months of doctor’s appointments for me, as I walk out my healing, and a last minute one because I broke out in hives because of a medication hours before my plane left was another stressor. Let me tell you: Nothing was keeping me from getting on that plane!!!!

 

What else didn’t FB reveal?

 

As if that was not enough, how about the fact that our son, Alex didn’t have an apartment, on the day of graduation, in NYC and we were leaving in 9 days and he was starting work in 11? Not only that, but our children are “do-it-yourselfers” just like their mom. They hold their cards close to their chest and lean hard on God to walk all of it out without relying on Mom and Dad. This brought us to “Princeton’s Great Storm of June 3, 2014″.

 

Graduation was over, the last toast had been made and it was time to walk out of Alex’s Tower Club and face the world. Princeton graduates joked about how the university “kicks you out”. This isn’t just a feeling but a reality, within 23 hours of graduation all seniors must be completely moved out of their room. Four years of memories have to be boxed up and shoved into a storage unit, parent’s basement or shipped to your next apartment. All the days of cheering and accolades are quickly replaced with “That was good. Now start over, time to prove yourself again… on a much bigger stage.”

 

Calling it a storm is more than a metaphor because when we walked out of the reception the sky turned black and the wind created small funnels all around us. How apropos. We ran for shelter and the five of us sat in an empty sterile dorm room Benj had rented for the weekend. Outside the rain came down in sheets and through the window we looked out on the field that held the P-rade days before. The grandstands were empty, the field was soaked and the cheering crowds were gone. It was here that I finally asked the question that we hadn’t wanted to ask, “Alex, have you started packing?” That was 20 hours to D-Day. (Jack Bauer had nothing on our next 24 hours.)

 

Tomorrow: The Clock Starts Ticking Down…
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#1 Is it as good as it looks on Facebook?

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The other day my closest friend and I texted each other after a 9 day silence. There wasn’t a problem or disagreement, in reality so many amazing things were happening that we hadn’t been able to catch up.  Paul and I have been on a 2.5 week trip to NJ and NYC to celebrate Princeton University Reunions and our son’s graduation, followed by a family reunion in NYC after months of separation. Per the usual, one of the first things my friend asked me, “So is it as good as it looks on Facebook?”

 

As a writer my FB statuses and pictures do not only update, but give a detailed storied account and a bird’s eye view into my life. Since I see the world through the looking glass I always hope to have a perception of what would draw a person in and leave them with a good feeling when they walk away from my posts. This is the reason my friend asks her question. She wants the behind-the-scenes documentary and even the blooper reel, essentially the good, bad and at times ugly.

 

Most people know I am an avid FBer, it is my way to stick my head out of my cubicle and take a break from working alone. Since it is my detox or relaxation I try to stay away from the negative feelings of the day. It’s not that I am hiding the truth, but rather I say, “FB is the trailer of my life and if you want to see the whole movie, go read my blogs.”

 

So here is the behind-the-scenes but still edited version of our 2014 Amazing Adventure to NJ/NYC:

 

Was it awesome? Yes!!

 

High moments: Alex walked in the P-rade next to Paul. We met authentic people in the parents and friends of our son that we hope to keep in touch with for years to come. Benj and Veronica joined us in NJ and we were finally together, running from event to event to celebrate Alex’s huge achievement. We all had time with each other one-on-one, even the kids. We watched our son and daughter gleam with pride over Alex and move into protective-mode when the transition began to happen. We sat in Alex’s thesis advisor’s living room and had a Mona Lisa moment of tea and free exchange of ideas. We heard multiple alumni and mentors from Alex’s theatre troupe and work talk about the impact our son had made in their lives personally and professionally. Our new son, Craig then joined us in NYC and we began a whirlwind tour of the city. We laughed, we talked and we were finally able to put our hands on our kids in a quick hug or a rub on the shoulder simply because we shared the same time-zone for a change. After Benjamin, Craig and V left we took time in the city for ourselves. We went to three Broadway shows, multiple museums and stayed blocks from Times Square. We had private time with Alex and were able to have a front row seat to this major time in his life. We were able to be there for him… for us.

 

That opportunity to be there is where the deep part of our story is revealed, but some back story is necessary to truly understand all of our emotions.

 

Three days before we left for the East Coast my husband woke at midnight to find me having a blessed “ugly cry”. As most husbands will attest, this is a sheer moment of confusion even panic. “Why is she crying? Did she get a call or text? Or God forbid, I did something wrong…” The ugly cry was simply a result of everything that was coming and the dam had sprung a leak.

 

Tomorrow I will share with you…

 

WHAT FB DIDN’T TELL YOU…

 

I hugged my son today, simply because he was alive.

At the beginning of this year I started a project 365 Grateful Memories with daily pictures that helped me focus on being appreciative of everything in my life, even the little things. It became a bit hard 2 months in when I hit the anniversary of my Pop’s death and slowly the project fell into silence due to busyness and life.

Today I picked it back up without so much pressure to do it every day… but to still focus on 365 days of grateful memories no matter how long it takes to accumulate them.

The picture that goes with today’s post unfortunately will never make the internet due to regulations, but it is embedded in my brain since my son was nice enough to show it to me when I picked him up for Spring Break.

Once situated in the car for the ride home he smiled at me and said, “OK, I have something to tell you, but I wanted to wait until you could see me and know that I am safe and unharmed.” These words never bode well for a mother and my eyes widened as I waited for him to continue. He was already on crutches and in a camp boot from  a sprained ankle two weeks before, what now?

Benj proceeded to tell me that three days before when his unit was training in the San Bernardino Mountains his group had been climbing a steep trail and gone too far. They reversed and began to inch backward when a wind gust pushed their Ford Explorer into a sideways roll off the trail. Before they knew it they had come to a stop upside down. Trapped in the back amidst ammo cans and equipment, Benj was unharmed. The two others in the vehicle were able to get out and escape with only a slight concussion when one hit the ceiling when removing their seat belts. Benj was the last one out and when they inspected the vehicle it was a total loss, but thankfully not a loss of life. These three walked away. Praise God.

The picture he showed me was an upside down Ford Explorer within the brush. It isn’t posted here, but it is in my heart forever because next to it was my son and he was smiling.