What Freedom Tastes Like (Apparently: Porkroll)

It happened earlier this week: On Tuesday, my youngest turned 17 and left the house before sunrise, returning a few hours later triumphant, with his new driver’s license in hand. I often say that he’s not the worst teenager I’ve ever met, and generally cheery, but this new found independence sent him into a profoundly manic state.

“This is, like, the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said, sitting at the counter in our kitchen examining his new license. He couldn’t stop smiling and said it was the best birthday present, even though I’d just given him new AirPods.

We sat and chatted for a bit and then he ordered a porkroll-egg-and-cheese on a roll (no salt/pepper/ketchup) from a nearby deli, which — if you live in New Jersey — is apparently what freedom tastes like. Then I watched as he slid into the Honda Civic I’d leased a few weeks ago and backed out of the driveway to go pick up his celebratory sandwich and head to school and bask in all the birthday good wishes.

It wasn’t until later, when I was thinking about my youngest child’s new set of wings, that it occurred to me that for the first time in 27 years, I was no longer pinned to one of my children’s pick up and drop off schedules. That I, too, had been set free.

I’ve been towing kids around for so long that when I had my first baby in 1992, new parents were instructed to strap rear-facing infant seats into the front seat of the car. Like, a crybaby was my copilot for a good year until his sister came along and all of a sudden, all cry babies were mandated to be moved to the rear.

I shuttled my kids all over creation, like every other mom, in vehicles littered with crushed goldfish and empty juice boxes they’d stuff into cupholders, leaving a sticky residue on everything they touched. I can’t tell you how many times I had to disassemble a car seat to wipe barf from its every nook and cranny, and as this was well before the dawn of smartphones and iPads, we listened to a lot of Broadway cast recordings and could sing the entire libretto of The Music Man and Oklahoma at one point.

And as my four kids were spread out over 10 years, all that driving went on for a very long time.

The driving pinnacle came when I had four kids in four different schools, had gone back to work full time and was in the midst of a contentious divorce. I’d race to pickups muted while listening in on conference calls while the high school kids argued about who should have been picked up first. I even outsourced driving the youngest back and forth to preschool by signing him up for one that provided bus service. 

Eventually — meaning 17 years later — they started to get their licenses and we slowly began adding used cars to the fleet so they could get themselves where they needed to be (school, work, practice). When my third kid got her license, I finally had someone who could also help with errands and she gladly went food shopping and to Costco for a toilet paper haul. And she happily drove her little brother to and from wherever he needed to be.

But when she went away to college five years ago, that driving gravy train screeched to a halt and I was back shuttling the baby around. 

The upside to the fourth kid, though, is that he’s pretty resourceful and usually gets himself where he needs to be. My biggest driving responsibility the last few years has been getting him to school each morning, which I kind of strong armed my neighbors into sharing with me, dangling the promise that once my guy got his license, he’d gladly drive their kid to school until he got his own license. 

In fact, when I texted my neighbor on Tuesday to tell her the good news, that we’d NEVER have to be part of the terrifying drop off situation at the high school, she replied, “That’s a fabulous Christmas present for us all!!”

My third kid lives right outside DC now and she and I Facetimed on Tuesday after her little brother got his license and she joked that now I could just send him to the market to buy his own ham, which is what he eats every day for lunch at school and it seems like we’re always running out and I need to go buy more. 

“You just need to give Nick a credit card and you never have to do anything again,” she said, and we laughed at how true that was.

He’s lined up a babysitting gig for tonight — which means I can go out without worrying he’s going to throw a rager at our house and that I also don’t have to pick him up anywhere; and on Sunday he can drive himself to a 6 p.m. indoor lacrosse game a half hour away so I can go to my girlfriend’s holiday open house; and on Monday, he can be the Uber driver for me and my girlfriends so we can have a glass of proseco at our annual holiday lunch. 

Honestly, this kids growing older thing is really working out for me, and it was only 27 years in the making. 

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The ‘Shizzness’ of Being a Mom

P1000060It happened at the stroke of midnight, just a few hours ago, the vanishing of one of my two remaining teenagers. In the blink of an eye and the tick of a minute hand, my oldest daughter turned 20 while I slept.

She joined her brother, now 21, in what I guess could be categorized as young adulthood (with the caveat that both are very much still on their folks’ dime), leaving one teen in my life.

It wasn’t that long ago that I lived in a house bulging with three teenagers, the walls barely containing all the hormones and angst radiating off of my children, like the ever-present stinky waves that surrounded Pigpen.

Teenage angst emanates off my kids like the stinky waves surrounding Pigpen.

Teenage angst emanates off my kids like the stinky waves surrounding Pigpen.

And I have to say, I am surprised to find myself the mother of two kids that are in their 20s.

In a way, I defined myself as being the mom of so many teenagers. Their assorted issues dominated my thoughts and much of my time in therapy as I struggled to navigate the choppy waters of growing up. Again.

Worrying about how late to let them stay up on school nights and whether they were getting enough fiber quickly morphed into weekend midnight curfews and  battling underage drinking.

All the stuff that clogs the highways that get you from the Point A of childhood to the Point B that is adulthood, the things I thought I’d said good-bye and good luck to many moons ago, became a part of my everyday landscape: broken hearts, driving tests, SATs, pimples, high school sports, college essays, prom dresses, boutonnieres, after school jobs, queen bees, lunch tables, eyeliner and AP Calculus.

Just when I never thought any of it would end, we seem to have rounded a corner. The end, of this chapter anyway, is in sight. And that’s what has me feeling slightly melancholy on this 20th anniversary of the birth of my second child.

Three years ago, when I had a junior and senior in high school, and an eighth and second grader, it seemed like I’d never get through it all. There were days I thought I would drown underneath everything that needed to happen (see the long list above) and all the FEELINGS in my house.

And now here we are. Two kids away in college and another is well on her way. Pretty soon things like resumes, internships, roommates and first apartments will become an integral part of our vernacular.

Just when I was starting to get a handle on all the other stuff.

And honestly, it’s making me feel kind of old. Having half of my kids now in their 20s is actually making me slightly nostalgic for teenagers.

I know, crazy, right?

And then as if by luck, my 11-year-old son came into my room bright and early this morning to announce he was having a hard time breathing and let me return to a place I know best: being the mother of a child.

So for the umpteenth time, I ushered a kid into my small bathroom and turned the shower knob to its hottest setting and let the steamy mist fill the room. I slipped out to get him a pillow and blanket so he could get cozy on the tile floor, and we sat and waited for his breathing to ease up.

Later, after I set him up in my bed to watch Cartoon Network with some ice water and Motrin and called the school and the doctor, I told him I thought he had the croup again and suggested we try the nebulizer before heading out to see the pediatrician.

“Why aren’t you a doctor?” my son asked. “You seem like you know all this shizzness.”

And in many ways he’s right. Four kids and 20 years later, I am an expert on changing the most explosive of diapers, could diagnosis a croupy cough coming from three rooms away and have been known to breastfeed a baby while browning ground turkey for tacos.

I was that good.

And now, where has it gotten me?

Because just when you get the lay of the land, know exactly what needs to be done in a variety of situations, it’s time to get in your boat and set sail again.

Pretty soon I’ll be shoving off for parts unknown and will need to develop a whole new set of skills to survive all that waits somewhere just around the bend.

But until then, I need to go pick up all the Legos my little guy left scattered around the den before I made him go upstairs to take a good, long nap.

I’m keeping one foot firmly planted in childhood for as long as I can.










the slings and arrows of motherhood

In my line of work, I have had to learn to develop a thick skin to withstand some of the verbal arrows that have been slung my way over the years.

And let me be more specific: when I use the term “line of work,” I am not referring to my role as journalist or ex-wife, but as the mother of three teenagers who I suspect might sharpen their tongues late at night to inflict cutting words and barbs to the unsuspecting.

Recently, I dragged my 19-year old son to a family counseling session to help us sort out some of the snags we hit when he returned home from college for winter break and was dismayed to find he was still expected to comply with the rules of our house. I needed a neutral party to bear witness and keep me from throttling him.

The therapist got him to admit that he respected me and all I do for our family and then gently coaxed him to share whatever else he might feel for me.

“Well, I don’t hate her,” he shrugged, and then went on to repeat that high praise at least once more during the session.

This is why I suffered through six months of breastfeeding and endured two rounds of thrush? Not to be hated? This is why I cut hundreds of hot dogs into tiny pieces to avoid choking and plodded through countless readings of Courduroy and sat shivering on park benches so he could fill his lungs with fresh winter air? To be placed on the cusp between somewhat likeable and barely tolerable?

But I’ve gotten used to the careless words children sometimes throw my way. In these parts, I have been crowned not only “meanest” but “worst” mother over the years. I also “don’t get it” and “don’t understand,” as if I arrived in the world cranky and in my mid-40s and this hasn’t been a work in progress.

Sometimes I think the girls can be the worst. I have been met with withering stares and told an outfit looked “crazy” as if I’d fallen into an episode of Project Runway, and an attempt to get in on ogling Zac Efron’s hotness with them was greeted with shrieks of horror as I was quickly reprimanded for being “gross.”

“Mom, you’re too old for that,” I was told.

My son headed back to school at the end of last week and came up to my bedroom to say good-bye and as soon as I saw him, I could tell by the look on his face he had had a change of heart.

We hugged for a while and as I heard him sniffling, was reminded that despite his hard, outer shell, the kid is super gooey inside.

Now he’s back at school and we’re practically in love as I tend to his needs — printer ink, textbooks — with a click of my mouse. He’s grateful for my help and I’m just happy to go to bed at night and not have to worry about whether he’s home or why the phone is ringing. And by the time he returns in May I’ll have had ample opportunity to toughen my skin, and my heart, for the long summer ahead.

This essay was originally posted on Patch.com on January 18, 2012.