Light and Strength

Hello Tuesday People ~

I’m feeling like I should say something, but I’m not entirely sure what to say…

Like all of us, I’m trying to keep my wits about me in the ways that suit me. I’m taking the dog for a lot of long walks and I’m sitting down for quiet sits. Online yoga in my living room, or weather permitting, outside in the sunshine. I’m limiting my time on news and social media sites, and spending much of my time writing…. Writing grocery lists, writing love notes and mostly writing my manuscript.

What I want you to know is that I am deeply grateful for you, my Tuesday community, and that I am holding you in my heart. Know this, even if you don’t see much activity on my blog, that I am sending love and giant hugs your direction.

Here are some of the resources in which I am finding comfort in these crazy coronavirus days. Please feel free to share:

Staying Present: Elizabeth Gilbert’s 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique: You sit and notice 5 things you can see, 4 you can hear, 3 you can feel, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste. This practice brings you right into the moment. It’s especially yummy if you can do this lying on the grass in the sunshine. Dog optional, but recommended.

https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_gilbert_writer/channel/

Meditation:

Tara Brach’s talks and guided meditations are terrific. She has several resources on her website, and you can subscribe to her podcast on iTunes or wherever you access your podcasts.

https://www.tarabrach.com

Good News:

If you haven’t already discovered Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, I recommend it. “The Sunday Paper is a free modern digital newsletter to inspire your heart and mind.” It does. Enjoy.

https://mariashriver.com/sundaypaper/

Poetry:

Of course, poetry! A salve for the head, the heart, the soul…

“Go to the Limits of Your Longing”  by Ranier Maria Rilke

(Book of Hours, I 59)

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

***

Light and strength to you all.
Love,love,love,

Charlotte

One Team

Sunday was a beautiful day for the Los Angeles Marathon. Perfect running weather: cool and breezy, partly cloudy, no chance of rain.

I watched the elite runners on the televised coverage. The twenty-year-old who pulled away in the last half mile to win the men’s race was a picture of lungs and legs and power. Pure and breathtaking. The human spirit in motion.

What you might not see in that moment is the 20-mile training runs. In the dark, in the heat, in pain. But you know they’re there. You don’t cross the finish line without them.

Once the elite runners completed their races, I got out of my jammies and headed to Santa Monica to cheer my runner on for the last mile. I found my place along the route near a grandmother and her grandson, also looking for their runner. The grandma cheers especially for the women. I assume she’s acknowledging International Women’s Day, but maybe it is just heartfelt encouragement from one woman to another. The path is not easy as a woman. Living while female is not for the faint of heart.

They say if you have lost your faith in humanity, run a marathon. The good news is that you don’t actually have to run. Just watch. Choose a spot anywhere along the route, but if you can, find a vantage point somewhere past mile 20. There are people of every age and ability, bodies of every size, shape and color. I see those who appear to be lifelong friends racing the last mile together, smiling. Complete strangers limp forward together. Everybody cheers for everyone else. People run for all kinds of reasons, and many of those reasons are displayed in brightly colored shirts bearing slogans and acronyms. Even though I don’t know a single spectator along the route, and really only a few running the course, I am inspired. It displays our essential interconnectedness and our shared humanity. A reminder that everyone you see is running for the same team.

Eventually, the man that grandma and grandson have been waiting for runs toward us. “Run, Daddy!” the little boy shouts. His father answers, “I love you, buddy!” I am taken aback, because his voice and intonation sound uncannily like Sam’s. It reminds me of how Sam used to greet our little boys. I can hear the echoes of Sam saying the same thing to my boys — now young men — I love you, buddy!  I wish they could hear him now.

“I love you, Daddy!” the chirpy young voice replies.

“I love you, buddy!” He stops running long enough to lift his little one into the air with a celebratory hug, even though there’s another mile to go.

This is the moment I notice that the charity displayed on the man’s shirt is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I’m grateful for sunglasses that hide tears. I ran my one and only half-marathon as a fundraiser for AFSP in honor of Sam. I wonder who this man might be running to honor… his own father? A dear friend? The little boy’s mother?

“I love you, buddy!” he says again as he lowers his boy gently and heads toward the finish line.

I turn my attention back toward the runners, still in the race, moving forward, one foot and then the next, at all paces, toward a common destination, until I see my runner. The love of my life greets me with a smile, stops for a hug and a kiss and then continues toward his goal. I turn down the block and race up a sidestreet to meet him at the finish line.

Most weekday afternoons, I see a young man walking together with his caregiver. He appears to be in his teens, tall and gawky, like many teens are. The young man wears a fluorescent yellow vest with black lettering: AUTISTIC. PLEASE BE KIND. I sometimes imagine all of us wearing the same team jersey with one message: LIFE IS HARD. PLEASE BE KIND.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And please, be kind.

Birthday 2020

Maybe I’m used to missing Sam on his birthday. I’ve been missing him for the last thirteen years. But I’m not used to missing his mother. For eleven of those years, I talked to Sam’s mother on his birthday, and it is not the same without her. Today, I miss her.

This is what my grief looks like. It’s the pang of not being able to call my mother-in-law, not hearing her laugh, not repeating myself – loudly and slowly – in as much Spanish as I can bludgeon with my American accent. It’s the pain of not hearing her tell me how proud she is of me and all four of my sons, how proud Sammy would be. It’s the silence of not hearing her say – in English and in Spanish – that she loves me.

I believe that the work of therapy – and make no mistake, it is work – is to become an expert in my own grief, to notice the places where it hurts, to change what doesn’t serve me, to honor the beautiful, tender, vulnerable places in my heart. To honor the glitchy grouchy wounded places, too. To put some distance between me and the habits that are not in my best interests. To let go of the things – and regrettably, there are entirely too many – that I cannot control. And then to let go of the resentment surrounding the fact that I would make a much better plan than Whoever-Is-In-Control-Of-Planning (or whoever is asleep at the wheel) or whatever. To nurture, with kindness and courage, the budding new skills and perspective. To be patient with the fact that some days demand chips and salsa for dinner. Or ice cream. I go straight to the freezer; I do not stop at the farmer’s market. I will eat kale another day.

Today requires dark chocolate and a glass of something red and bold. Any greens will be in the form of mint or pistachio ice cream. Or possibly guacamole to go with the salsa.

I will draw my grief a hot bath, or take her for a long walk, or put her to bed early. Or all of the above. We will settle into our cadence of grief: inhale, exhale, repeat. I will remind myself that grief is the price we pay for loving wholeheartedly, and just because I pay the price willingly does not mean it doesn’t hurt. It does.

I will bring out a favorite picture, a portrait in black and white, from when my mother-in-law was newly engaged to my father-in-law. She’s a beauty.

I will think about the times she introduced me as her daughter, “the blondie,” even though I’m more gray than blonde these days. I will remember the day the family sat around the table chatting after brunch and the ensuing nipple-piercing conversation with abuela that sent all the men reeling and running from the room. Abuela and the rest of us girls dissolved into laughter, the kind of laughter that echoes through the house and sends tears rolling down our cheeks even years later.

The grief comes and goes in waves, and the love remains. It takes a winding way, but I find my way home to the love. Always, the love.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And the love.

Touchstones

Sometimes it’s like he’s just really far away, on a secret mission in an undisclosed location, beyond cell coverage, without a return ticket. There’s no way to reach him or leave a note. He’s not coming back, and he’s not sending any text messages, not even a single, solitary poopy emoji. And yet, oddly, there’s still a relationship.

My son says, “People don’t get it. To them it seems like forever ago, even if it’s only been six months, and that everything is normal again. They don’t understand that, even after it stops being news for everyone else, you’re still living it every day.” Grief takes its own sweet time.

I return to this place, the cemetery where Sam was buried more than a decade ago. I am here for the funeral of a man I never met, the father of a friend. I show up early, early enough to visit Sam’s plot before the service begins. I do not come here often, sometimes years pass between my visits, but I know exactly where he lies. There’s been a lot of construction around the site in the last ten years, but I have no trouble finding Sam’s spot. I park at the bottom of the hill and climb up. When the boys were little, the slope seemed so much steeper and farther. Now they could ascend the hill in about three steps.

A sacred friend planted a gorgeous pine tree in Sam’s honor on the Lake Arrowhead property where we attended family camp together for many happy summers. The pine was planted on the edge of the lawn where they hold Shabbat services, the Friday sunset observance, ushering divine peace into open hearts on a warm evening breeze.

The so-called little one went to his junior prom over the weekend. When he was trying on his tux at the rental shop, another mom commented, “Your son looks just like you,” which thrilled me but also made me laugh. This is the second time in seventeen years that anyone has told me this child looks like me. The first person to say so retracted her statement about ten seconds after she said it. “Actually…,” she paused. “He looks a lot like Sam.” In fact, more people say he looks like his step-father than say he looks like me. But anyone who knew Sam recognizes the soft brown eyes, the gentle smile, the mischievous glint.

The gravestone is tarnished, worn by rain and sun and time. The inscription reads, “Let it not be death but completeness.” This site is also accessible by a walking path. I chose this spot specifically so that his parents could reach it easily – no hill climb required – but these days his mother is too fragile to spend time here with Sam. His parents’ declining health is a touchstone that reminds us of the depth of the loss. Intellectually, I know that he does not exist in this earthy plot of green, but it holds a strange gravity. The boys have lived longer without their father than they did with him, longer with their step-father than their biological one, and I am humbled to tears by the vastness of love that continues to hold these boys.

The pine tree is only a few years old and a few feet tall. We expect it to thrive. It has been nourished with this blessing: “May it grow tall and strong as a reminder of a good man, husband and father.”

More than a few friends have commented that the boy looks the spitting image of his father in the prom pictures. Not one says he looks like me. I think Sam would say that the boy looks exactly like himself. It’s not so painful anymore, although sometimes I ache with a longing, wishing that Sam could see the young man his son has grown into, both the boy and me looking for a sign of his father’s approval.

I sit at Sam’s side for a few moments. I don’t really need this place to “talk” to him. I pretty much speak my mind whenever, wherever. I offer up a prayer, and while I often simply sit with folded hands to pray, I make the sign of the cross here in the cemetery and imagine Sam’s lopsided smile. He would be thoroughly amused that his Christian wife had arrived entirely too early. I can almost hear him, “Didn’t I teach you anything about standard Jewish time?”

We didn’t go to family camp last summer. Instead, our now family of six decided to take our first international trip. Our traditions have served us well, providing a foundation for our future family adventures together.

In the same way that I didn’t want the boys to avoid their grief and sadness, I didn’t want them to avoid this physical place. It’s impossible, after all, not to bump into these moments. Like a friend, who happens to be at the same restaurant, Sam’s life – and his death – cross our paths, often in ways we aren’t anticipating. The funeral, prom night, summer plans, bring us in touch with the mystery that somehow – even after Sam’s death – we have a relationship, a connection, a sacred communion. Our memories become more blessing than suffering, and we draw strength, warmth, shade and comfort.

These moments bring us back to the intersection where he lost his life, and where we are continuing with ours.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path.

An Approximation of Psalm 23

Good Lord, I have a lot of talented, thoughtful friends. Who could have imagined such abundance?

She goes to the grocery store for me, so I can lie down in the grass and stare at the clouds.

She teaches me to meditate.

She touches my life with humor; I cannot resist the urge to laugh.

One sacred friend sends me notes of encouragement every morning, and every evening, I trust her gentle light to guide me forward.

They do not leave me alone, these princess warriors; they send flowers, text messages and emails; they make cards and phone calls; they go with me to the therapist’s office and the attorney’s.

She takes me out to lunch and patiently lets me cry.

She shows up on my doorstep with Pinot Noir and dark chocolate.

So many provide my family with meals that I need a calendar to keep track of them all; there are not enough days in the month for so many dinners.

She reminds me who I am;

And I cannot help but to share this love myself, to participate in this proliferation of beauty and light.

A Spot of Blue

IMG_9134

So I’ve got this fuzzy blue yarn sticking to my black jacket, and I’ve decided to let it ride. I was having breakfast with my bestie best a few weeks ago, and she was using this particular yarn in a creative project. Some of the blue fuzz stuck to me when she hugged me. She tried to neaten me up and take it off my lapel, but I nabbed it and stuck it back on the front pocket. I like the slightly messy, totally silly, random reminder that somebody who loves me left her mark, kind of like the baby urp badge of honor but without the lingering slightly sour smell.

Blue fuzz. I’m a Sesame Street girl, so I grew up with a fondness for fuzzy blue critters. If Grover does not make you smile and feel like skipping across the room, then I really do not know how to help you.

You don’t have to skip, but I recommend that you do.

Because yes, life is heartbreaking and horrifying. It’s scary and people can be cruel and selfish and entitled, refusing to clean up after themselves or put their grocery carts back. There’s death and illness and all manner of hostility and ignorance and crazy. And there is still goodness and silliness and yoga, smiles and hugs and laughter, dark chocolate covered almonds, champagne and baby giggles and butterflies, and the occasional art project that leaves love all over the map.

Somewhere in the course of today I hugged that blue fuzz onto somebody else. And it’s okay. Because some things are better shared, and blue fuzz is definitely one of those things.

***

Wishing you love and light on your path. And a little spot of blue fuzz.

Love & Laundry

Tuesdays are my devoted time to listen to my heart’s longing. What do I need more of in my life? What am I hungry for? Where am I holding tension? Do I need to breathe and stretch? Or go for a long walk? Or take a short nap? What will bring me peace in this moment? What do I want for lunch?

It is not a day to catch up on laundry or correspondence, tempting though that may be. I confess, however, that I can hear the dryer’s gentle rhythm from where I’m sitting, and I’m the only one home. Or at least the only one home with opposable thumbs. Clearly, I have been remiss.

Sometimes I need to remind myself of the preeminent Tuesday rule: “Unless you are, in fact, on fire AND I gave birth to you, it can wait until Wednesday.” This was the standard I implemented shortly after Sam’s suicide and kept as I navigated life as a single mother of two sons, and then continued as a newlywed and mother to four sons, and even now as those baby birds are leaving the nest. It’s a helpful practice because, of course, as life’s demands shift, the mental, physical and emotional reserves I require likewise change.

My Tuesday practice involves more than just filling my incoming stream with positive messages and images, although that’s nice. A real Charlotte Shabbat requires paying attention to my own self: how I am feeling in the moment, noticing where I feel stress, what ideas take my breath away, inspire me or infuriate me. It allows me to see what I’m afraid of and find ways to nurture my courage and strength. I cultivate calm in the swirl of crazy. I feel the fullness of what I’m grateful for and the ache of what I am longing for. I ask a lot of questions. What am I trying to get away from? Or closer to? And how on earth could I fill an entire washing machine – twice – with nothing but white athletic socks?

I take a deep breath and resolve to sit still and embrace the fact that I am a child of the universe, to marvel at the love that supports me on life’s journey. There is something deeply comforting about sitting so quietly that I can feel the reverberations of my own heart’s beating and knowing that that’s enough. All that life requires of me in this moment is to be.

Suddenly, I wonder if there are any fun surprises in whatever the mailman just dropped off. This epiphany occurs just as the cat is coughing up a fur ball on somebody’s sweatshirt, and my thoughts return to laundry. Clearly, I need more practice at my Tuesday practice.

To my great relief, sitting quietly on Tuesdays is not the only path to love and light. The other day I was sorting through old stuff when I came across a folder that a friend had put together for me, a blue folder with a spreadsheet including the names and contact information for friends who volunteered to help me. There’s a column with suggested tasks and errands that I might call upon them for, such as dinner delivery, grocery shopping, childcare, carpool, walking the dog, even household repairs, the many daily ways that families show their love and care. Not surprisingly, many of the names belong to people that I am still close to, friends I’ve had dinner or coffee with already in 2018. There are some I’ve lost contact with, or whose children now attend different schools. No doubt many of the email addresses are no longer valid. But the most astonishing thing about the list, the part that humbles me to the point of tears as I run my fingers gently over the names is that it is three pages long. There are one hundred and nineteen names. More names than there are socks in my dryer. It’s formidable.

Know that it matters when you show up and put your name on the list, whether you think it’s no big deal or you worry that it’s not nearly enough, and particularly on a day when living with teenagers has reduced your sanity and self-confidence to imperceptible levels. You make a difference.

I just wanted to say that out loud.

Bruins and Trojans

“It’s so nice to see you!”

I smile and reply, “It’s nice to see you, too!” That’s the transcript of our entire conversation. The dog and I continue on our run, but the smile and the connection stay with me.

This woman is like me, out walking her hapless dog, and she is also, like most everyone I know, someone to whom life has dished out some big-time-heart-break. Politically, we have – shall we say – divergent views, and I almost wish I didn’t know this about her. It might be easier to offer a smile and a hug. Ignorance is bliss, after all. But does it have to be so hard?

I reach into my UCLA Bruin heart and say hello to a lot of USC Trojans. I send quite a few Christmas cards to Trojan friends, I host several of them at my own table, and I even have one on speed-dial. Trojan-provided scones blessed my family’s breakfast just last week. On one notable January First in recent Rose Bowl history, I personally donned the cardinal and gold (you will have to ask my Trojan bestie for the photos) and encouraged the team. I do believe that Fight On is the greatest college slogan ever. Make no mistake, I am not a fan. It’s just that life is bigger than the teams that play. I reach into my Rice Owl heart and sport a sincere “Sic ‘em!” for my son’s Baylor Bears and even the occasional “Hook ‘em!” for my friend’s daughter at the University of Texas.

Kindness and compassion and beauty are bigger than the teams on the field. They just are.

In a Christmas sermon, the priest says how amazing it is that God came to us in the vulnerable form of a baby to bring His light into the world. Herod was so afraid of being de-throned by the baby king that he killed all the infant boys to secure his own power, and the wise men wisely skipped town so as not to lead Herod to the The King. See how wonderful God is to bring light into the darkness? And all this holy hoohah landed on me completely askew. All I could think was, What about the mothers of all those innocent children? Would she have preferred the dark world so long as her son was spared? I would.

I don’t need a God who justifies the loss of life for His win. We have military generals for that. I don’t think God calculates and plans. I believe in a God whose heart breaks with any child’s death, the shepherd who saves the ninety-nine and the one. I admire the Father who doesn’t keep score and certainly doesn’t divide His own children into camps of winners and losers. I believe we have much work to do to bring that sort of existence to life, but that’s the light I would like to contribute to the world. Regrettably, this means opening my heart to…, well, everyone, even Trojans.

I do not believe in a Divine One who closes his heart to the suffering of a family – or any single person – for the sake of the greater good. Likewise, I don’t think closing my heart is the answer. Closed hearts fester; they become suffocated with bitterness, resentment and fear. Broken hearts heal, open to each other, vulnerable enough to love and to be loved. Yes, there is a time to protect the wounded heart, to stay safely in the cocoon, gathering strength. And then comes the time to open, to connect, to shine. We need more love, not less.

We were at a concert the other night, and the conductor explains, “This piece contains the emotional history of humanity. Music is where we connect with each other beyond language and time, and each one of us – composer, performer and audience – plays an integral role in this holy trinity of music. This,” and he holds up the sheet music, “cannot be erased by the victor.” And all I can think is, Yes, this is the kind of power I can believe in. A Divine Music beyond the confines of time and space and out of the dynamic of winners and losers. A God who wears every single color – or the whole entire rainbow – and who shows up and says, “It’s so nice to see you.”

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And more love.

I Want You to Know

Here’s what I want you to know about my husband’s suicide:

I didn’t see it coming. In retrospect, I can read some of the signs differently, but at the time I did not know he was so close to the edge.

It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t his parents’ fault, or his kids’ fault, or his cousins’, or his sister’s or his friends’ fault. It wasn’t his doctor’s fault, or his boss’s fault or any of his colleagues’ or clients’. It wasn’t entirely Sam’s fault. It just was, and I cannot explain the why of it any more than anyone can explain why some people develop cancer or multiple sclerosis and others don’t.

It wasn’t for lack of love. His death is not a reflection on our capacity to love him. Or his capacity to love us.

Sam was not bi-polar. He was not diagnosed with any mental illness. He was not in any sort of treatment or taking any medications. He had a prescription for Vicodin for his back pain after multiple surgeries, but he refused to take it.

I don’t know what would have happened if he had lived. Whether our marriage would have remained intact, whether he would have been hit by the proverbial bus or an actual one, whether he would have survived another back surgery, whether we would have gone to family camp for another twenty years, whether we would have moved to Colorado or Canada, whether circumstances might have pushed the boundaries of our patience in ways we hadn’t yet been tested, or whether we would have lived happily ever after until death did us part when we were in our 90’s surrounded by our children and grandchildren. Or whether that last scenario might just be a story I read once upon a time.

I will never know exactly what happened and every why detail. The not-knowing is part of the deal. I know this now.

 

Here’s what I want his children to know about their father’s suicide:

You were the greatest gift of your father’s life. You were his joy, his light, his inspiration. This does not mean it was your job to save him. Your role then – as it is now – is to be yourself. Be your funny, spirited, smart, wonderful, glitchy, imperfect self. His death cannot take you away from you.

Your father loved you with all of his heart. His death is not the end his love for you.

He would never have left you willingly. Not in a million years. I know it looks like he chose to leave, but I promise you with every ounce of my being that if he was in his right mind, he would not have left you. No way. The only way I can reconcile the fact that he took his own life with how much he adored you is that he must have been gravely ill. Somehow in the warped operation of his mind, he was convinced that you were better off without him. This makes no logical sense. I hope that, as you navigate the course of your own life, you will be able to come to terms with this paradox.

You are not destined to repeat your father’s path. Be alert. Suicide and depression run in families, but they do not own you. Know yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Trust that you have resources and agency.

You didn’t deserve for your father to die. Life is not about what we deserve. Do your best to let go of life’s injustices and to hold on to moments of grace.

On the night your father died, I sat with each of you tucked under my arms. You were small enough then that the three of us fit in one armchair. I told you something that is as true now as it was then: Your father’s love for you will always be with you. Always. Forever.

 

Here’s what I want Sam to know about his suicide:

Your death caused us more pain than you could possibly have imagined. We forgive you and love you anyway.

To be unnervingly honest, I do have several friends who have no intention of forgiving you. I’ll just say that when they get to heaven, you’d better get ready to run.

You must have been experiencing more pain that we could possibly have imagined. We hope you forgive us and love us still.

The little baseball team you coached was devastated at your death – not because of your academic or professional accomplishments, not because you were the greatest baseball player or coach, not because you were somebody’s daddy, but simply because you were a kind man who cared enough to spend time with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every Saturday afternoon. I want you to know that your goodness is what we hold on to.

We are creating lives that would make you proud. We live with joy and passion and faith and integrity. We laugh and sing and run and play. We shout and swear and sweat. We have traveled to places you never got to go, and I’ve let the kids go places you might not have wanted them to visit. For the record, they loved it. We had your favorite comfort food for dinner last night, turkey meatloaf with garlic green beans and spaetzle with parmesan. We raise a glass to you on your birthday, your deathaversary, on holidays and random days. Sometimes it really irritates me that you believed that we could live full lives without you, but more often I am grateful.

I fell in love. I didn’t think I would ever do that again. He is handsome and kind and funny. He loves me, and he loves our sons as his own. Tim was also widowed, and he has two sons whom I love with my whole heart. We have created a family together, and I cannot find the words to explain how beautiful this life is.

I want you to know that we are happy.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And perspective.

Family Time

I’m holding on to summer for just a few more days, notwithstanding the compelling evidence that it’s going, going, gone – the college bound bags, packed and tripping distance from the front door, the carton of fresh, bright highlighters and newly-sharpened pencils, the neat stack of textbooks on the dining room table. We are rested and inspired and pretty much ready to embark on the next adventure. And by “we” I mean, not me.

Our oldest son starts law school today, which constitutes clear and convincing evidence that I have been derelict in my maternal duties to talk him out of it. Thing #2 starts his senior year in college today, which seems to indicate that I may have blinked, but that he definitely hasn’t. The so-called little one starts his junior year of high school today, which must be an administrative glitch, because just about three yesterdays ago, he was not much bigger than an overstuffed burrito. I have already snapped (but not posted, as requested) the obligatory first day of school picture. and I’m trying not to think about the fact that he’s the last man standing on our porch now that all his brothers are off to college and beyond. It doesn’t seem possible that next year will be his last first-day-of-school-photograph-by-the-front-door, even though he’s well over six feet tall, because, like a recalcitrant toddler, today he is carrying his shoes in his hands instead of wearing them on his feet. It appears that my son, like me, steps reluctantly into the school year and scheduled life.

We’ve had a full summer, capped by two weeks of travel together with all four of our sons, an extraordinary achievement of organizational prowess and sheer blind luck. In a way, our trip already feels as ephemeral as a pleasant dream; we’ve tossed the luggage tags and boarding passes, posted a few photos and plunged headlong into the next phase, the boys speeding off in four different directions. On the other hand, the sturdiness of our shared experience will hold us for a long time. We thoroughly enjoyed our family togetherness, the planes, trains and even one trifling car-related mishap hardly worth mentioning but that dad will likely hear about for the rest of his days. We explored castles and cathedrals and quiet chapels, toured old cities and initiated a new friendship, spent long evenings featuring Bananagrams and brothers, all punctuated with laughter, local ales and champagne.

I feel the need to point out that we started out as a blended family, but now we are simply a family. The fact that two of our boys have the same exact name occasionally creates some confusion, which my husband and I feel the need to explain. The kids chalk it up to maternal brain damage and keep moving.

If you were counting sons, you might have noticed that I neglected to mention Thing #3. He is flying under the radar, hoping that I haven’t remembered that he finished his summer internship but has another week before heading across the country to his freshman orientation. The truth is that it is not getting any easier to let these kids take that step into college to create their own lives, even though it’s everything he has worked for (and we have encouraged). I’m bracing myself for my mommy meltdown. It has happened twice before already, so I know it’s coming. It might happen when I check the weather in the Midwest, or visit the Patagonia website, scrolling through various styles of sweaters and jackets, wondering which one best keeps the boy warm and dry. It could happen when he tells me about his roommate assignment. Or when I book the one-way plane ticket from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. It might be when I pay the fall term tuition. My husband and I are doling out last minute lectures and advice faster than the boy himself can drive to In ‘n Out for just one more double-double before leaving California. In any case, I have already warned the so-called baby that I am going to cling to his ankles like nobody’s business.

But what if I’m not meltdown-bound? Maybe I’m actually ready this time around? Third time’s a charm? It is entirely possible that I am exemplary at sticking my head in the sand, or that I’m feeling confident because the boy is still in bed at noon, in a bed under my own roof with my own dog at his feet, and not far away in a dorm room with a roommate I cannot threaten or bribe into kindness. It is altogether likely that upon the actual college drop-off, my husband and I will – for the third time running – retreat quickly to the nearest chapel, followed by a lengthy visit to the closest bar.

I guess I won’t know until it happens, so I will just trust that he and I are both ready for the approaching season. All I can do is enjoy where I am.

I take advantage of summer’s light, and I take a leisurely afternoon stroll with the dog, followed by a glass of sauvignon blanc on the porch. I have a book nearby, which I think about reading but don’t actually open. Instead, the dog and I simply watch the sunlight shifting on the mountains, thinking our butterfly thoughts, until it starts to feel too chilly outside, at which point our thoughts turn toward dinner, and we head inside for warmth and rest.

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Wishing you light and strength on summer’s path. And gentle transitions.