Teen Anticipation

“Are you excited?” I asked as we backed out of the driveway.

“I’m terrified,” he replied, rubbing his palms on his thighs.

“You’re awesome either way,” I told him, “and you’ll know tonight.”

“I just want it so bad!” he said, looking over at me. The fluorescent logo on his t-shirt glowed in the morning sun. I merged onto the main road, hoping for traffic slow downs on the way so I could enjoy his company for a few extra minutes.

I looked over at Jack and remembered how, three years earlier, he hadn’t wanted to join the marching band. Now it wasn’t something he would consider not doing. The boy that always says, “let’s just forget it and go home” when things don’t go well is the one who gets up an hour early on the days he has band.

“Aaaahhh! I just wanna know!” he says. Then something catches his eye in oncoming traffic. “Ooo, check out that black Ferrari,” he says, grateful to the break in anxiety.

“Nice,” I reply, and wink at him. Every day we’re on the lookout for super cars.

He switches the radio to the iPod and turns on our favourite driving song. We’re only one song away from school now.

“If I make it into drumline I still get a new drum pad right?”

“Of course. You need something better to practice on.”

He brightens up.

“I’m full of knots!” he says, fidgeting in his seat.

I drop him off and I notice he has a hop in his step. Halfway to the door he stops and turns and runs back to the car with his sunglasses in hand. “I forgot,” he says and hands them to me.

“See you later! I loooove you!” I tease him after seeing that there is no one around to hear me.

On the drive home I put our song on repeat even though I feel like I’m cheating on him in some way. I’m full of nerves too. He’s worked hard but we both know it’s not a given that he gets a drum. I say a prayer of gratitude for what this nervous anticipation is teaching him about patience and perseverance and I thank God for bringing us here. I also pray for patience and for wisdom so I can comfort him if things don’t work out.

the twinges of having teens

I wasn’t expecting to be emotional when my oldest got a job. He already had a driver’s license and he’d been away several times without us (I was emotional then too). He had looked for a job for a couple of months, sending out more than a dozen resumes, and then when he got the job I was quite excited for him. It’s such a big life moment! It was when he got the call from his boss with the starting date that I suddenly wanted to cry. I don’t even know why! I don’t know if it was just an emotional week or the clutter in the house from the renovations but I wanted to cry for his first two days. It was probably good that he worked five days straight for his training.

There was this ridiculous part of me that felt like he was leaving. Like he’d chosen the job over me. It’s so stupid, and I knew that it was stupid of me to feel that way, so I worked to get over it and not express that nonsense to him. It’s not like I really feel that way, it’s just some bizarre perversion of feelings that I had on his first two days. It’s so much fun to hear about his day and get to hear all his stories and I am so thrilled that he is enjoying it. He’s now on his fourth day and I’m not emotional about it anymore, although it does feel like the clock is ticking to the day when they’ll both be gone. And that’s okay too. [Insert deep breath here]

The whole point of parenting is to raise your kids to be successful, independent adults. Keeping them dependent is not the goal at all, yet sometimes my emotions make me want to keep him here forever. Maybe my emotions were pride too, I’m so very proud of him and how cool he is. I was not like that at all when I was a teenager. He’s so mature and awesome.

I think the emotional upheaval will be the norm for a while. Everything they do without me gives me that little twinge and I remember the days when I got to carry them on my hip and help them with everything. It’s so great for them though, to be out on their own without me, doing things that they want to do. I listen to parents of little ones and they are so busy with all the little things that come up every day that they can’t wait for their babies to be independent. I want to tell them it will come far too fast and they will long for these baby days but I don’t say anything. I remember hearing that when I had little ones and I hated it because it seemed so hard at the time. And I didn’t believe it until it happened to me. So now I enjoy the old memories and create new, different ones. There are great and wonderful things about each stage of growing up, including our growing as parents.

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Fiction: The End of Snow

Jos rested her back against the cold wall and looked outside at the grey concrete surrounding her new home. Spirals of wire sat atop the outer walls like evil candy canes, reminding her where she was. She realized she felt too comfortable here after only two days. When she arrived, she was told that it took most women weeks or even months to adjust, and some never did, but she had not had any problems adjusting. Maybe it was because she had been born here nineteen and a half years ago. Maybe it was because she felt freer inside than she ever had on the outside. There were rules here, and a schedule, and no one else’s baby to look after. There were rules at home too, sure, but they were always changing and she could never keep track of what was right and what was wrong so she would do something really wrong because at least then she knew where she stood.

The knot in her shoulder was smaller and the pain in her jaw from years of grinding and clenching was less than she was accustomed. She stood against the window in her dull sandpaper pajamas and rolled her shoulders back over and over again while dropping her ear to her shoulder back and forth like she was warming up for a boxing match. She resisted the temptation to jump up and down. The tension was gone. She let her mouth hang open as she stretched her jaw without pain. And then she remembered.

“No!” Jos’s mother yelled. She was yelling at her so hard Jos knew her mother would have a migraine later that she’d treat with whatever alcohol was available. All Jos had done was ask to go to a movie with her friend Anne that lived down the street and had two parents and a little brother and a little white dog that always ran up to her and cuddled at her feet.

“He’s not my baby! I never asked for him!” Jos yelled back, slamming the door to her room so hard her bulletin board flew down to the floor and her favourite photo of Chris the awesome Evans got creased. “Arrrrrrgh!” she yelled, and buried her face in her futon. It’s not her problem that it’s the pest’s birthday. Her nose and cheeks felt hot and angry as tears dripped down into the foam. She lifted her head and snorted back her tears. “I hate you!” she yelled towards the door, then climbed out her bedroom window, onto the fire escape, and jumped down the last few feet to the concrete below.

Breakfast at 0750 was the same for everyone every day. If you missed it, you didn’t eat and then you’d be in trouble for not eating and you’d have to go see the counselor and convince them that you’re not suicidal or going on a hunger strike to protest something pointless like the lack of vegetarian options. Jos stood in line on the morning of day three behind an older petite woman. “Hi,” she muttered, not wanting to start a conversation but not wanting to appear rude. The woman ignored her. Jos put the sickly yellow plastic tray down and pulled her long red hair back into a ponytail, wrapping an elastic around it. All she could get here were regular elastics; the kind office people liked to buy in fancy colours stretched into a ball that sat on their fancy wooden desk. The kind that hurt when pulled out of thick, curly hair. “Fine by me,” she whispered to herself. She knew enough people already.

On Halloween Jos had to take her five year old brother trick-or-treating and miss the school dance that Brian had asked her to go to with him. He had stood at the door of her math class and pulled her aside when she walked out.

“Hey, Jos, so, I was wondering, if, maybe, um, you would go to the dance with me?”

“Sure, why not?”

She shrugged as if it meant nothing but Jos had felt her cheeks get warm and rosy and her stomach got bumpy and she knew she was excited. She straightened out her sweater, pulling it down over her zebra print leggings in an effort to look smaller. She would have to find something to wear to the dance that didn’t make her look homeless.

“Great,” he smiled at her, “so, I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Yah, okay, see ya.”

When her Mom got home that night she told her about the dance the following Friday.

“No, Friday’s Halloween. You have to take Ben trick-or-treating. You already told him you would.”

“No, I’m going to the dance.”

“No, you’re taking your brother trick-or-treating.”

“Half-brother, and no, I’m not.”

“I’m not having this discussion with you.”

“Fine, you take him.”

“I have plans.”

“Change them. I’m going to the dance.”

“No, you’re not.”

“I’m not taking my stupid brother out for candy. You can buy him some yourself. He’s such a baby anyway.”

Ben had been watching the whole conversation from the doorway where he stood in his Olaf snowman costume holding sunglasses in his little hand. He ran away crying up to his room. Jos walked out the door, down the hall, and out the door that locked behind her. She sat on the cold concrete steps and felt her leggings get wet beneath her from the earlier rain. The next day at school she had to tell Brian that she couldn’t go. Black lines of mascara ran down her face as she told him. She knew how ugly she was.

“Oh that’s fine,” he said, oblivious to her crying, “I’d rather go with Andie anyway.”

He walked off and Jos saw him walk down to Andie’s locker, speak with her, and then embrace her as if they were already dating. Andie and her stupid locker covered in pictures of Adam Levine half-naked. As if perfect Andie would ever get a tattoo. She wiped off her cheeks and rubbed her hands on the sides of her skirt, pulling it down with the hope that it would somehow make her look less chubby.

Jos stabbed the half grapefruit on her plastic tray with the plastic knife she’d been given to eat it with. It bent and broke as it tried to push through the hard yellow rind. Half of the knife stuck in the grapefruit while the other half stayed in her hand, sharp and jagged. Another girl about her age, with short brown hair and glasses, sat down across the table. Jos looked up at her face. She reminded Jos of the smart girls at school that wear preppy clothes and had rich parents and got to drive their little Smurf cars but would whine about how they weren’t good enough to get into some crap school Jos had never heard of. She flipped her tray over onto the other girl’s breakfast and walked out.

The Christmas tree stood in the corner of Jos’s bedroom. She knew that normal people had theirs in a pretty stand, with a pretty blanket wrapped around the bottom. They would have ornaments and tinsel and presents too. But this tree was hers, pulled through the alley in four inches of snow three days after Christmas. It looked too alive to be left to die in the alley so Jos made it her own, dragging it up the steps and through the hallway, through the apartment and into her room. She propped it against the corner then heard knocking at the door. She opened it, leaving the chain on.

“What in the hell d’you think you’re doing missy?”

Jos looked back at the lady from down the hall.

“Get yurself out here and clean up the mess you made or I be telling your mudder.”

Jos stifled a laugh. Mrs. Greenback was not from the west and the way she talked always made Jos laugh. She and Anne made fun of her all the time, sitting on Anne’s deck with their legs dangling over the side.

“Whaz so funny?”

“Nothing, Mrs. Greenback, I’ll come out right away.”

Jos spent over an hour sweeping the needles out of the thin blue carpet in the hallway. Not that it helped. The carpet was so old and worn and covered in stains of dirt, food, puke, and God knows what else. She had just started sweeping the linoleum in the apartment when her mother came home. The opening of the door startled Jos and she turned quickly, swinging the broom handle and knocking over three of her mother’s Precious Moments figurines. She didn’t even look up at her mother, she just swept them up into the dustpan and went to her room.

“Doubt, Smithers, Anderson! Report to the kitchen at once!”

Jos got up, wondering who would have the name “Smithers,” and went to the kitchen. At least it was better than “Doubt.” Time for work duty. She stood at the metal sink. It was large enough to bathe an adult in and it reminded her of having to bathe stupid Ben every night. The water was hot enough to scald, Jos knew that, but here she was, forced to wash every dish with her bare hands. The burning was soothing in the pain it caused and she pretended to be outside lying on the beach, getting a sun burn.

It was Anne’s idea although no one believed it, especially Anne’s parents and Jos’s mother. Why would they? Anne lived in a nice house and had never done anything bad whereas Jos had already done two batches of community service for vandalism and shoplifting. She should have said no, she could have said no, but Anne really was her only friend and was leaving for college in the fall and it was their last chance to make memories. And it was New Year’s Eve. They plotted and planned for days, staying up late at Anne’s house pretending to be talking about college boys. Anne’s mother made them late-night snacks and when Jos stayed over, she got a full plate of breakfast cooked and cleaned up by someone else.

On the night of the deed, Jos wore her favourite black leggings and took a pair of her mother’s black boots from the closet. Anne was ready when she got there, sitting on her front porch like an old woman watching the neighbours.

“Ready?”

“Yes. Let’s do it. I have the jitters or something. Jos could see her hands fretting inside her mittens.”

“Are you sure you want to do it? If we get caught you won’t be going to college.”

“My Dad will get me out of anything. I just need to do something really bad to feel what it’s like. I need to feel what you feel.”

“The getting caught part is not fun.”

“We won’t get caught.”

The pair made their way down the street to the golf course parking lot where dozens of fancy, shiny cars lay waiting for them.

“Which one do you want?” Jos asked. Anne was only going to do this once so Jos figured she could chose. Plus, Anne was shaking standing there and the silver in her leggings was flicking light all over the parking lot. They needed to be quick.

“Uhhh, that one,” she replied, pointing with her red mitten at a two-seater rich car that matched her outfit.

The car was shiny silver and it twinkled like a rich person’s Christmas tree. She pulled the handle and was surprised that it opened.

“Rich people just assume no one will steal from them,” she said with disgust, although she was glad to not have to break in.

She rummaged around the car and the glove compartment and found a spare key in the owner’s manual. Another stupid mistake.

“It’s like they want us to take it,” she said and started the car. “Put your seatbelt on!” The plan was to have Anne drive just for the excitement but she was too nervous. Not that she had asked Jos to stop or anything.

They peeled out of the parking lot, Jos pretending that she was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and Anne pretending she was too cool to be excited. Jos sped down the street, changing gears like a race car driver with total confidence. She was the most excited she had ever been. They turned into the mall parking lot and did trick maneuvers spinning around and flipping from forward to reverse and back again. After several minutes, Jos drove Anne home. She watched Anne open the door and go inside but didn’t see her little dog run out the door and into the street. As Jos sped away she felt a bump under the wheel and reluctantly stopped the car. Anne ran out of her house screaming. “Snow! Snow!” And as she looked out into the street her bright rich face turned pale, the little dog barely visible against the snow covered street. Jos drove away. She had destroyed the only living thing to ever truly love her.

The prompt for this story came from Sarah Selecky’s Story is a State of Mind, the most awesome writing course online.

I Still Want Ice Cream

I love ice cream. I could eat it in some form every day of the year. In a dish, in a cone, smothered with hot fudge sauce or in a milkshake – it’s all good. I’ve thought of little besides ice cream for the last few days. While everyone seems to be bragging on Facebook about taking their kids to Dairy Queen or out for a milkshake, we are left with ice water. Why? Because of food allergies. Stupid food allergies.

I know that dealing with food allergies has helped us all understand that you can’t tell what a person deals with by looking at them. It helps my kids understand the need for all of us to belong and they have super-empathy for kids that are excluded for whatever reason. It helps us make educated choices about what we eat because we have to read EVERY label on EVERY food EVERY time (if you don’t believe me – we’ve found bagged lettuce that has been contaminated with allergens). It helps us plan ahead when we travel and be prepared for anything because we can’t just pull the car over anywhere to eat. Maybe it makes us better people overall but right now I don’t really care about any of that. I just want a milkshake.

At the end of the day, we are a super happy family that lives 90% of the time without having to think about allergies. We can’t have a dog. We can’t eat many things. But we keep those things out of the house so they are out of mind as often as possible. It does not get easier with time. Telling your thirteen year old that he can never have a dog is harder than it was when he was five. Seeing your fifteen year old walk by the ‘free lunch’ line at a competition because he can’t safely eat anything there still sucks. But occasionally someone does something outstanding. Like the Dad at band that took my kids out for a treat that they COULD have when he saw them not eating what was provided. He almost erased my memories of my ‘friend’ that came over with food saying, “I know you guys can’t eat this but I thought I’d bring it over for my kids”. Yah thanks.

The people that make sure that my kids are included, the ones that don’t go on and on about their kid’s Dairy Queen cake, and especially the ones that make a cake that my kids can share in – these people make my day. Because giving my kid a banana while everyone else eats cake just doesn’t cut it. I’ve met many parents that refuse to say no to their children. What they don’t understand is that I have to say no to my kids all the time, just to save their lives. Now that our kids are teenagers I am so super proud of them for not being afraid to say no when they don’t trust something (or someone!). They stand up for themselves, for each other, and for others. They’re amazing human beings.

I still want ice cream. Really, really, badly. But if my kids can’t share it with me, I don’t want it. I’d rather share my life with them than anyone else. I can eat ice cream later.

Daily Prompt: Bookworm

I am reading Superman For All Seasons. Not a chapter book but not a magazine, it classifies as a comic or graphic novel. My brothers used to read Transformers comics when we were kids. ‘Comic books are dumb’ I thought, ‘for dumb people that can’t read real books. Why would you read a comic book? They’re lame and infantile. The only good comics are the ones in the Sunday paper.’ When my kids were little, they dressed up as Batman but I never thought about comic books. I thought of Batman as a movie character and the star of a TV show. Now my kids are in their teens, hopelessly in love with comic books. Our dinner table discussion revolves around which character deserves a movie, which characters should join forces, and movie quotes from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.

In order to stay connected with what my children enjoy, I asked my son to recommend one of his comic books to me. He started me with Superman for all Seasons, which I am now reading for a second time. It’s awesome. There are fewer words than in a novel of course, but that doesn’t make it less worthwhile. Each time I look at a panel I see something new in the drawings or come to a different conclusion with the words. I love how different authors and artists can retell the same story in a new way, like how Batman became a bat-obsessed super hero or when Lois Lane discovered that Clark Kent is Superman. I thought a story was a story, the end. But I was wrong. Before I read comic books I had no knowledge of how any super hero came to be; I knew only what they were in movies.  Now I love the origin stories – Superman was bullied! Batman was an orphan! These stories give hope to their readers in a way that is not forced, cheesy or condescending. Comic books are for everyone, you just have to find the right one; it’s no different than books. We’ve had a few misses, but those are okay because we can compare with each other. My son respects my opinion on which books I like and I respect his. We get to enjoy them together. Now that I’ve read a few different comics, I am getting a better idea at what I like and don’t like but Superman for all Seasons remains my first and favourite comic book. Someday I will learn not to judge something without trying it first.

In response to today’s Daily Prompt, what is the last book you read?

Daily Prompt: In Good Faith

I was lying on my top bunk at summer camp in 1985. There were ten of us on five bunk beds formed into a circle inside a large teepee that was likely built by several 20-somethings from the city that had been hired for the summer. The bunks were old, rusted out metal with small white and blue striped mattresses each atop a wire coil frame. There was a fire going in the middle, its smoke billowing out the top of the teepee after swirling around inside. Colleen, the girl in the top bunk beside me, was banging her head against the metal frame and calling herself a head-banger. Jill was lying below me, her arm in a sling from a fall yesterday on our long hike. The rest of the girls are lost outside my memory, in the blur of adolescent girlhood where nothing matters but where you think you stand in the social circle. We had all just changed into our pajamas, inside our sleeping bags for fear of being seen by the other girls; a skill one learns quickly at summer camp. No one was speaking. It was too dark to read and too early to be asleep so we were all just laying there, absorbed in our own thoughts. Most of the time I thought about candy and how much I missed it, wondering what I would eat first when I got home. I thought of home of course and wondered what everyone else was doing but I didn’t really care as I was here and they were there.

Prayer to me at this time was a quick and desperate plea to get what I want. ‘Oh, please,’ started every prayer I made. My life was great so I didn’t feel the need to pray to end suffering. We had more than enough food, I was good in school, my parents adored me – there was nothing to want. I didn’t feel any global responsibility to pray for those suffering in other parts of the world, I was focused on my own ‘needs’ as they related to sports and boys. Lying there in my bunk, I started praying about getting into a swim club that fall. I wanted to swim more than anything. I was obsessed with it, like I would die if I couldn’t do it. The 1984 Olympics had been very good for Canada and I adored Alex Baumann and Victor Davis. If I couldn’t swim, I wanted to be a diver like Sylvie Bernier (completely forgetting that I would never jump off something head first). I lay there begging God to do my bidding, ‘please get me on the swim team, I’ll do anything you want but I need to know BY TOMORROW’. Apparently at this point God had had enough of my demands so he stepped in.

I started having some trouble breathing. Not life-threatening trouble but enough to make life unpleasant and scary when you’re away from home and in the middle of nowhere, never mind that appearances were everything and there was NO WAY that anyone was going to find out I was struggling. The smoke was filling the teepee at this point and it was not agreeing with my lungs. I carefully turned myself in my bunk, away from the smoke. God began to speak to me, “my time is not your time. I love you and I will always look after you. Let it go.” I never thought about my prayers being time-sensitive before but of course they were. I was always asking for signs – signs that the boys I had a crush on liked me too, signs that I would win something, whatever struck me as important at the time. I pulled my sleeping bag over my mouth to help keep the smoke away and began to relax. I realized at that moment that I had been living my life always looking ahead with anticipation to the next thing, never enjoying the present. I rolled over towards the fire and, keeping my sleeping bag over my mouth and nose, watched it with wonder as the flame turned to smoke and swirled around and out into the starry night.

Written in response to today’s Daily Prompt.