Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Last Word

Despite regular threats to throw myself off the porch, which actually means grabbing a beer out of the garage fridge and heading to the front yard for a time out, I’m in no hurry to die, or overly curious about what happens “on the other side.” I’m just reminded of the topic now and then, like when my uncle died unexpectedly last year. His family found some letters outlining his last wishes in the event of his death. Keep in mind, he was 74, and while he wasn’t in poor health, at that age, one never knows. Unfortunately, he left the letters in the “drafts” folder of his email program and they weren’t found until after he was laid to rest. Nevertheless, my uncle would have been ecstatic about the send off his wife and four children gave him. Or more likely, he would have shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever’s right,” even if it wasn’t exactly what he’d written down.

I suppose he figured he’d have time to whisper the words, “drafts folder” from his deathbed, but alas, there were no last words that anyone was witness to. There was a tree, and a single car accident in the middle of an otherwise perfect, sunny Colorado afternoon.

I admire his courage to write down his last wishes. He also left letters to his wife and children, who were devastated by his untimely death. But having those letters, knowing they were written with the understanding that they would someday be navigating this world without him, must have brought them what I can only assume was a shred of comfort in a sea of pain. It’s a brave thing to do, to face one’s own mortality and write stuff down.

As soon as we returned home from the funeral, my husband and I had that conversation usually reserved for late in one’s life. But that’s the thing: How do we know how late (or early) it is in our life? One of my kids could be sneaking up behind me with a heavy frying pan as I write this.

My point is this: Why leave it to your grieving relatives, who will be furiously looking for your will, to make important decisions about your send-off? Regardless of how comfortable you are thinking about your own demise, isn’t it your responsibility? And besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have the last word, once and for all?

Here is how my letter to my children might look:

Dear Children:

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope your Grand Theft Auto score or your rating on Kim K. is not terribly impacted; I’m sure you’ll be a C-lister in no time, even without my guidance. Regarding my last wishes and life in general, here you go:

You must do your chores this week, but take next week off. By then, the fridge and cupboards will be empty and you will be weak with malnourishment. Behind the microwave you’ll find a few twenties; call in a pizza.
Since you already know everything, all you must do is remember it, along with the location of your shoes, phone, homework and head, if it weren’t attached. Nevertheless, follow this last bit of advice if you want to get ahead in life, or at least to the corner: Accept your responsibilities and the consequences of your actions; treat others the way you would like to be treated; look both ways before you snatch the last slice of pizza.
Please cremate me. (In the event this letter is found while I’m still alive, I take that last sentence back). Please, no weepy gatherings in a dark mortuary with hard benches or I will haunt you for eternity. Have an outdoor get-together somewhere with wine, music and flushing toilets. Sprinkle my ashes to the winds at any location above 7000 feet. Whatever you do, please don’t leave my ashes in the closet for eternity, or until someone needs the shoebox to wrap a Christmas present in and I am poured into the recycle bin, which, come to think of it, would create a new circle of Dante’s hell and serve as fitting punishment for having sent so many wine bottles to the same demise.

Love, Mom.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Freshmen on my Mind

Freshman orientation is today. Since I have two of that variety in my household, the freshman experience is really on my mind lately.

I had just moved to a new town at the end of eighth grade, so I began my freshman year with one friend—my next door neighbor who was kind enough to follow her parents instructions to be nice to me. I quickly branched out and began accruing friends in a more organic way, which helped calm my nervous stomach as I walked on campus those first few weeks. By mid-year I was settled in. But that was in a school of nearly 2500 students. When you don’t know anyone, in a sea of bodies that vast, you can both blend in and feel even more alone than ever at the same time.

I’ve got four kids in high school this year, and for the next two years, when the eldest graduates and likely heads either north, to my alma mater (Chico), or south, to San Diego. At least, that’s what he’s thinking about this week. The two freshmen, my daughter and youngest step-daughter, escorted their dad down the driveway this morning, each taking an arm for the long walk to the truck. Was he going willingly? I think so. He’s been waiting a long, long time to have all his kids on campus with him. I upgraded his classroom mini-fridge to a slightly larger, dorm-style version last year, when our second-eldest, my other step-daughter, started high school. Now, he’s got five lunches to store, including his own, not to mention water, yogurt and whatever else they can cram in there.

Where did the time go? I don’t just mean this summer; I mean the last 16 summers. Seems like just yesterday I was packing bikes and kids into the truck and heading to the elementary school to teach them how to ride a bike, which was impossible on the hill we lived on. Or I was killing time at the park, pushing them “higher” on the swings and catching them at the bottom of the “loopy slide.”

A lot of time definitely went to operating car seats. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, or even at the beginning of what surely would become one, just thinking about taking the kids along somewhere would lead me to conjure up and then calculate exactly how much work it would entail, and whether it was worth it. Into the car seat, out of the car seat, into the car seat, out of the car seat. Those days when I had to run three or four errands, to the drug store, the cleaners, or god forbid, the grocery store, it became a shit show of buckling and unbuckling, keeping one on track (alive) while the other was either being removed from or put back into the car. And back then I only had two kids. In fact, I recall moments in the early evening, when this single mom was not up to cooking even mac n’ cheese, and I’d decide to get takeout. Hmmm, I’d think. Do I want to pile two tired, sweaty, not to mention mostly uncooperative kids into the car, drive to whatever fast food joint we could all agree on, spend the money, come home, and pile them out of the car, just to avoid boiling water and mixing in some powdered cheese and butter? Some days the answer was “hell, no” and other days it was “hell, yes.” Funny, how that works.

 Now, I pull up at the softball or soccer field, leave the motor running and wait for them to scramble out, grabbing their gear, water and sweatshirts. In less than ten seconds, I’m on my way. We’ve come a long, long way from car seats. So far, in fact, that the junior is now driving himself around and the sophomore will be soon.

The time went to a million different places: family movie night, when we’d pile onto the couch and shush each other for two hours; dinners at Mel’s, endless trips to the park, or the museum, camping, vacations to Hawaii, Colorado and Washington, trips to the City (San Francisco), baseball games, an endless stream of softball tournaments, Saturday soccer games that seemed to end in a different time zone they went on so long, holiday dinners,  family reunions, and most recently, sitting in or around the pool at all hours of the day or evening.

Monday is the big day. Four kids in high school. R.I.P. Summer of ’14, and all that came before you. You will be missed.