Who Knew?

The song came on in a random iPhone shuffle seven miles into the race. My blistered foot and searing hamstring were slowing me down, and so was the humid May morning on the Chicago lakefront. I thought about stopping, just for a minute. Then the song started playing, and I knew I had to keep running.

You took my hand, you showed me how…You promised me you’d be around…

It was May 19, my dad’s birthday and also the day before the anniversary of his death. That Pink song had played constantly on the radio in 2006, the year he died. I could feel my dad with me as I looked at the Chicago skyline and the boats in the harbor. A U.S. Navy veteran, he had always loved the water. I did too. It reminded me of him. Tears streamed down my sweat-covered face, but I kept running.

If someone said three years from now, you’d be long gone…

I remembered sitting in my SUV in our driveway after he died, sobbing to those lyrics, not wanting to cry in front of my children but needing the release. It was a love song, but it was about loss and regret, both of which had been constant themes in my relationship with my father. After years of disconnection, we finally found our way back to each other emotionally after my kids were born. Being a parent helped me to forgive him, to love him again. And then he was gone.

When someone said count your blessings now, ’fore they’re long gone, I guess I just didn’t know how…I was all wrong…

My foot and leg ached, but I kept running. I had signed up for this half marathon as a way to keep myself on track after quitting smoking. By race day, I was 145 days smoke-free. My lungs were stronger. I had grown faster. My mantra during those grueling 12 weeks of training had been one of my father’s favorite sayings: “Mother always told me, just do the very best you can.” And on race day, when my foot and leg teamed up to stop me, his words kept me going.

Around Mile 10, the 2:10 pacer passed me and my heart sank. I had wanted so badly to finish at less than a 10-minute-mile pace, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I could still beat my 2010 time of 2:17, though. I adjusted my goal and my mind-set. I told myself I only had to run for 30 more minutes. After all those hours of training over the past 12 weeks, 30 minutes was nothing.

At Mile 12, I looked at my Garmin and realized just how much I had slowed down. I knew I had to find a way to pick up the pace. I forgot the pain, the humid air. I focused on my breathing, my stride. When I finally saw the finish line, I sprinted toward it. “Finish strong,” I heard someone in the crowd yell. And I did. My Garmin read 2:14 when I crossed the finish line.

I did it, Dad, I thought. I did the very best I could. I did it for you, to celebrate your life. But more important, I did it for me. I believed in myself, and I made it happen.

Who knew?

My husband and I at the finish line. I couldn't have done it without him, my running buddy and my love.

My husband and me at the finish line of the 2013 Chicago Spring Half Marathon. I couldn’t have done it without him, my running buddy and biggest supporter.

I Think I Can

Tomorrow I will run 12 miles.

At mile 2 you will say, “Your foot hurts; do you want to injure it again?”

I will think about my injury two years ago. I will remember that I ran the marathon anyway. I will keep running.

At mile 5 you will say, “Your lungs are burning; at least slow down.”

I will remember that I quit smoking four months ago. I will breathe deeply. I will keep running.

At mile 7 you will say, “You’re tired; just walk for a minute or two.”

I will take a gel. I will drink some Gatorade. I will keep running.

At mile 10 you will say, “You’ll never make it to 12. Just quit now.”

I will recall running 26.2. I will tell myself 2 is nothing. I will keep running.

Today I am resting, recovering, preparing.

Because tomorrow I will run 12 miles, no matter what you say.

You are the voice inside my head. Tomorrow I will prove you wrong.



This morning I found myself all choked up because it’s a “rest” day. If you are a runner, you know that rest days are tough psychologically. Your body needs to recover, but your mind wants to be out on that trail. I’m planning to take my last long run before my half marathon tomorrow, and I’m all over the place emotionally. Training has been going really well until this week. I’ve had some pretty crappy runs over the past few days, and I know it’s because I’m all up inside my head and scared to death of failing.

If you follow this blog, you know this race matters a lot to me. If not, here’s the back story: I ran the Chicago Marathon two years ago with an injury. My time sucked, but I finished. The following year, I signed up again but never started training. I cheered my husband on from the sidelines and swore I was done with racing. This year I quit smoking and needed a new, healthy addiction, so I signed up for two half marathons, the first of which is in 11 days. I’m happy to be doing what I love. I’m stronger and faster after having given up smoking. But that voice inside my head? She is as loud as ever. Wish me luck tomorrow. I’m hoping I can shut her up for good — or at least for 12 miles.

These Boots Are Made for Walking


I bought my first pair of cowboy boots in the seventh grade. It was 1980, the year “Urban Cowboy” was released, and western boots were a must for any budding fashionista. I saved for weeks to buy those boots, hoarding my allowance and babysitting, which I hated, to earn extra cash. My stepmother said I had champagne taste and a beer budget. Being only 12, I didn’t understand what that meant. All I knew was that the fawn-colored pigskin suede boots with white leather flowers cost $75, and I had to have them.

Thirty some years later, I still remember how proud I was when I plucked those boots off the shelf at the Scott Colburn western store in Livonia, Michigan, and handed my money to the cashier. They were a symbol of my individuality and confidence, and I wore the hell out of them. I wore them with leg warmers and prairie skirts; I tucked my jeans into them. I wore them till they needed new soles and were beyond out of style. And then one day I packed them away on a closet shelf and forgot them.

The Southern road trip my family took last week made me remember those long-lost boots and the strong, self-assured girl who wore them. After a lengthy monologue in which I ruminated over situations I cannot control, my husband set me straight in the lobby bar of the Peabody Hotel. “It’s a big world,” he said. “If you don’t like who’s in that corner of it, move to a different one.” What we don’t want to hear is often what needs to be said most. He was right: It was time to dust off my self-confidence and stop being a victim.

As we wandered down Broadway in Nashville a few afternoons later, I found myself as drawn to the western stores as the honky-tonks. I tried on boot after boot, but the perfect pair eluded me. The next day, an hour before we left town, I headed back to the first store we had visited to try on the boots I liked most. The fit wasn’t right, and the toes were too square. Disappointed, I looked for a larger size and noticed a pair I hadn’t seen the day before. They were exactly what I wanted: black, distressed leather with low heels and sharply pointed toes. They fit perfectly.

I wore my new boots out of the store and on the drive home from Nashville, and I have been wearing them ever since — to a party, to the grocery store, even in the carpool line at school. When I look down at them, I feel a wave of pleasure and pride. Like the flowered pair I bought in seventh grade, my new boots are a symbol of my individuality and confidence. But more important, they remind me of the much-needed earful I got in Memphis and my decision to leave my blues there, where they belong.

We’re Turning One

Tomorrow is this blog’s first birthday, and I’m celebrating a little early due to the impending weekend insanity of my son’s confirmation, my husband’s band gig and St. Patrick’s Day. What better way to commemorate one whole year of getting my blog on than to recognize some of the incredible folks I have met along the way?

Thanks to my talented buddy Bee over at Living Off Script, who surprised me with a One Lovely Blog Award last month, I get to name five blogging lovelies of my own. Here they are:


Enjoy, ladies. I respect and admire each one of you and always look forward to reading your work. I am so happy to have found you and all the other talented folks over at Yeah Write just a few months after starting this blog. I have learned so much from reading your blogs during the past year, and your feedback on my own writing has been invaluable. Thanks to all of you, and to Bee, for making this weird and wacky online universe a whole lot lovelier.

In addition to recognizing five other bloggers, I am also supposed to list 15 random facts about myself as part of receiving the One Lovely Blog Award. Here goes:

  1. I am a terrible driver. I mean, really god awful. The local body shop created a frequent crasher card in my honor. (That last part may be an exaggeration.)
  2. I am not ashamed to admit that I cry at schmaltzy Hallmark commercials. But I am a little embarrassed by the fact that my children tease me about it.
  3. I didn’t receive my first real kiss till I was 15. No one in my high school ever asked me out. Not a single person. The only high school boys I dated (there were two) went to other schools.
  4. I was the first person in my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. I love school and hope to go back for a master’s and doctorate someday. I’ll be the annoying old woman in the back of the class who constantly raises her hand and always turns her papers in early.
  5. I won the fifth grade spelling bee but lost the overall school contest on the word “guard.” The memory makes me cringe. And so does the fact that I still have to stop to think before I type it.
  6. I once took a personality test that revealed I am an introverted extrovert. I guess that’s why the whole blogging thing makes sense for me.
  7. My first trip to Europe was to Ireland in my 20s. For a freckly brunet like me who has been teased pretty much my whole life about being so pale, stepping off that plane into an ocean of people who looked like me was both eerie and comforting.
  8. If I could have one wish it would be to have a single memory of my mom. She died when I was 2½, and I can’t remember a thing about her.
  9. If I could have two wishes, I would also hope to stick around long enough to be a grandparent someday because, well, I think it would be fun.
  10. This is probably the most random fact of all, but I hate white gym shoes. When I started dating my husband, he not only owned a pair but also thought it was OK to wear them in public — when he wasn’t exercising. I corrected this fashion faux pas immediately.
  11. When I am done with someone or something, it’s forever. No second chances. No retakes. I’m basically a kind, fair person, but I’m also stubborn.
  12. I want to learn to ride a motorcycle. My husband, who knows what a klutz I am, thinks this is a terrible idea.
  13. Autumn is my favorite season. I love the fall colors, the cool temperatures and the smell of burning leaves. Halloween is my favorite holiday. Oh, and my birthday just happens to be Oct. 28.
  14. I was raised by a family of spiritualists. My grandfather and aunt were both psychics. (Man, why have I not blogged about this yet?)
  15. I was terrified to start this blog a year ago, absolutely terrified. I am super proud of myself for getting past the fear and taking a chance. It’s been a great year, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Thanks to all (nine) of you who keep coming back each week, reading and leaving your wonderfully supportive comments. I love you guys. And, yes, sappy old me is all choked up right now.

Red Lipstick

My older sister said our mother never left the house without lipstick. Before she carried the garbage to the curb or hung the laundry out to dry in the backyard, she painted her lips a glamorous red and wound her blond curls into a tidy upsweep. My father said when she walked into a room, everyone stopped to look at her. She was a talented seamstress who could spot a dress in a department store and recreate it at home without a pattern. My aunt said she kept an immaculate house and dressed herself and her children impeccably. She was a homebody who had few friends, and she seemed to prefer it that way.

I don’t remember my mother, but from other people’s stories and memories, I have woven together an image of her, and it has profoundly affected the way I navigate my life and relationships. I compare myself against the image. I decide which parts of her I wish to embrace and imitate: the confidence, the independence, the self-assuredness. I recognize the ways I am like her and accept the ways I am not.

The part of the picture that puzzles and intrigues me most is that she didn’t have a lot of friends. Was that by choice or default? I wonder who taught my mother how to read the subtleties of female behavior, to avoid being sucked into the vacuum of cliques, to spot real friendship in the sea of selfishness and phoniness. Did her mother teach her those lessons, or was their relationship the reason she didn’t like or trust other women?

My relationships with my stepmother and the aunt who raised me had a major impact on the type of women I choose to befriend. From my charming, popular stepmother, I learned that those who follow the crowd often do so because they neither know nor love themselves. From my aunt, I learned that strong, confident women make the best friends because they don’t want or need anything other than your companionship. Neither of them ever told me how to interact with other women; they showed me.

I think of my own daughter as I watch her unravel the inner workings of middle school friendships. I wonder what effect I have on which girls she chooses to befriend. Like my mother, I don’t have lots of female friends, but the ones I do have are loyal and true. Like my aunt, I speak my mind and do as I please. Unlike my stepmother, I will never be popular and am fine with that.

I hope my daughter will learn to be herself and not succumb to the bullying and peer pressure that happen even in adulthood. I hope she will ignore the static and forge her own path. I hope she will wear red lipstick when she takes out the garbage and not give a damn what the neighbors think. I hope she will be a little like the grandmother she never knew.

Jeanne Marie (RIP 3/26/27 - 4/28/70)

Jeanne Marie (RIP 3/26/27 – 4/28/70)

Wake-Up Call

Our morning dance begins with my calm, cool attempt to rouse my seemingly comatose teenage son. “It’s time to get up,” I say, tapping him gently on the shoulder. No response. “Get out of bed, please,” I continue, my voice gaining volume and force. I shake his shoulder, not violently, but with intent. No response. My cheerfulness spent, I break out the mom-means-business voice: “We are going to be late. Get. Out. Of. Bed. Now!

We do this wake-up dance every day, my son and I. Yesterday was no different. Once I safely delivered him and his sister to school, I nestled into my home office chair with a second cup of coffee and started sifting through the weekend’s accumulation of email. When the phone rang and I saw the middle school’s number on the caller ID, I sighed with exasperation, wondering which of the kids had forgotten a gym uniform or lunchbox.

But no one had forgotten anything. My son was horsing around with a friend during band practice, the woman from the school office told me. He fell off a countertop and hit his head on the floor. “He seems a little out of it,” she said. “Do you want to pick him up, or should we wait and have the nurse look at him when she gets here?”

How bad could a fall from a countertop be? I thought. I am not a pessimist; I don’t always expect the worst. In fact, I figured my dramatic firstborn child was playing up the injury so he could miss a day of school. “Let’s wait for the nurse,” I said.

The nurse called me 10 minutes later with a laundry list of symptoms: nausea, fatigue, light sensitivity, sluggishness. She suggested a trip to the pediatrician’s office for an examination, so we went. But even after the pediatrician confirmed that my son had a concussion and would need a CT scan to rule out internal bleeding, I assumed she was just being overly cautious.

Thankfully, I was right. He did have a concussion, but the results of the CT scan were clear. The doctor said he could return to school the next day but would have to miss gym class for a week. Considering how much he loathed his gym teacher, I knew the latter part wouldn’t be a problem.

On the drive home from the hospital, he talked about his latest favorite video game, but I only half listened. I kept picturing him on the CT scanner table covered in a royal blue lead blanket, moving slowly into the spinning, humming machine. We had made it through almost 14 years without him breaking a bone or suffering a serious illness. We had always been lucky; I had no reason to expect the worst to happen. But in that moment, watching my suddenly small, fragile child on that table, I knew it could.

Our morning dance began as usual today, with my son feigning sleep, despite my best and continued efforts to wake him. “But, Mom,” he finally whined. “I have a concussion.”

“Yes,” I said. “Now get out of bed.” Even I didn’t buy my mom-means-business voice. We do this wake-up dance every day, my son and I. But this morning it was different.

The Ride

Source: WPClipart

Source: WPClipart

We planned to spend the afternoon studying, but the warm spring sunshine lured us outside. My friend and her boyfriend searched for a Frisbee, while I foraged for beer in the fridge. We were college kids enjoying a Saturday, and the hours passed easily. Unfortunately for me, the unwitting third wheel, the more we drank, the cozier my friend and her boyfriend became.

“I’m outta here,” I finally said, trying to seem casual as I made my hasty exit. My friend mumbled goodbye, barely noticing as I wandered into her house and out the front door. It was then that I realized a slight problem: I had no car. My friend had driven me to her house, but I had no way home.

Shit, I thought. Now what? There was no way I was going back inside to interrupt their love fest. Another friend and I were supposed to meet up a few hours later at our favorite Irish bar, which was only a couple of miles away. If I walked there, he would drive me home.

Walking might have made sense in a college town where it was safe and practical, but we were commuter students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The bar was just off the Southfield Freeway in Detroit, across from a drug- and crime-plagued housing project. My dad, a retired Detroit cop, constantly warned me about how dangerous the Herman Gardens area was, but I shrugged it off.

What did he know anyway? Nothing bad ever happened to me.

I headed toward the expressway, counting the blocks as I walked. I tried to remember how many blocks were in a mile. Was it eight or 12? I knew the sun set in the west. Was the bar west or east of here? My sense of direction wasn’t too keen, even without alcohol.

I didn’t notice the car pull up to the curb next to me until I heard the driver call out, “Are you lost?” Startled, I looked up and saw a man with graying hair and glasses smiling at me. “You really shouldn’t be walking alone around here. It’s getting dark. Do you need a ride somewhere?”

“OK,” I said. He seemed harmless, fatherly in fact, and my book bag was getting heavy. I got in the car, and he asked where I was going. “The Tipperary Pub,” I said. “Do you know where it is?”

“It’s that Irish bar off the Southfield, right?” he asked. I nodded, and we drove the mile or so to the pub in silence. When he pulled into the parking lot, I reached for the car door handle. “Hang on a second,” he said. “Do you know why I picked you up tonight?” His tone was stern, and the smile from before was gone.


“I have a daughter about your age, and the thought of her walking around in a bad neighborhood after dark…Do you know how lucky you are that I am the one who picked you up? Do you know what could have happened to you?”

“Yeah…ummm…thanks for the ride,” I said, unable to make eye contact. “I gotta go.” I grabbed my book bag and climbed out of the car, my face flushed with the shame only a father’s scolding can elicit. I opened the door of the loud, smoky barroom and didn’t glance back as I escaped inside.

When my friend showed up an hour or so later, I was on my third beer. I laughed carelessly as I recounted my hitchhiking adventure. The lesson somebody else’s dad had tried to teach me was already just another story to tell.

What did he know anyway? Nothing bad ever happened to me.

And the Liebster Goes To…


I received a lovely surprise earlier this week: Farrah from The Three Under presented me with my first ever Liebster Award. And what, you may ask, is a Liebster? I didn’t know either, so I Googled it. I found various translations for the German word “liebster,” but these were the most prevalent: sweetheart, dearest, darling. Apparently, the award originated in Germany, and the idea is to recognize your favorite bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers. To receive this award from Farrah, a super-talented blogging pro who helped me get the Michigan Left ball rolling (disclaimer: she also happens to be my younger cousin), is quite an honor. Thank you, Farrah, for making my week. I haven’t received an award since I won the fifth grade spelling bee, so this is a big deal to me.

On to the rules for the Liebster Award:

  1. Each blogger should post 11 random facts about herself or himself.
  2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you, and then create 11 (Farrah changed it to 10; I’m cool with that) new questions for the bloggers to whom you pass the award.
  3. Choose 11 bloggers with fewer than 200 followers who you think deserve more attention and link them in your post.
  4. Go back to their pages and tell them about their awards.
  5. No tag backs.

My 11 random facts:

  1. I like to be on the water, but not in it and I don’t really know how to swim — unless doing a flailing doggy paddle counts.
  2. I hate spiders and am regularly tortured by my children, who enjoy hiding rubber arachnids in random spots around the house to scare the bejesus out of me.
  3. I am obsessed with capers and force try to encourage my husband to incorporate them whenever possible when he cooks.
  4. I’m a morning person (I know, I know; don’t hate).
  5. I love to crochet, although I haven’t done it for years. I think this means I’ll make a good old lady.
  6. I once attended a monster truck show…and liked it.
  7. I wanted to be a lawyer for about five minutes during my first year of college.
  8. In seventh grade, I got into an argument with a boy; he punched me in the mouth and knocked out my front tooth.
  9. I couldn’t run around the block until age 40. Five years later, I have a marathon, three half marathons and various other races under my belt.
  10. I flunked calculus twice, once in high school and again in college.
  11. My karaoke songs of choice are “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Jessie’s Girl.”

My 11 blogger picks (in alphabetical order because I’m a copy editor):

None of these bloggers is new, and I’m sure many, if not all, of them have more than 200 followers. But these are some of the folks whose blogs inspire me, make me laugh and/or cry, and keep me coming back for more. I tried to pick people who haven’t received a Liebster before — or at least didn’t have a badge for it on their blog. These are all bloggers I discovered through Yeah Write, a fabulously supportive community of writers who blog and bloggers who write that you should really check out if you haven’t already.

  1. Fifty Shades of Peach
  2. Hair of the Dogs
  3. Happiness Cubed
  4. Ice Scream Mama
  5. Jester Queen
  6. Larks Notes This
  7. Mayor Gia
  8. People Do Things With Their Lives
  9. Saalon Muyo
  10. A Teachable Mom
  11. Whoa! Susannah

My answers to Farrah’s questions:

  1. Sweet or savory? Savory
  2. Summer or winter? Winter
  3. Most irrational fear? The bogeyman under my bed
  4. A flaw you have accepted in yourself: I speak before I think.
  5. The last book you read: “Little Bee”
  6. How many hours of sleep you got last night: 7.5
  7. The drink you order in a restaurant: Sauvignon Blanc
  8. Cat, dog or fish? dog
  9. What would be the opening line of your eulogy? “This is a party, not a funeral; stop your crying and make a toast already.”
  10. What actor/actress would play your life story in a Lifetime mini series? Dana Delany

And, finally, my questions for my Liebster Award bloggers:

  1. Where would you live if you could pick any place in the world?
  2. What is your favorite CD and why?
  3. Why and when did you start blogging?
  4. Were you a jock or a nerd in high school?
  5. Who, besides your significant other, knows you better than anyone else?
  6. What book most influenced your life?
  7. What is your biggest fear?
  8. What is your dream profession?
  9. What attracts you most to someone?
  10. Beatles or Stones?

Congratulations to my Liebster picks, and thank you again to Farrah for choosing me.

The Evil Queen

Evil Queen

She made me go with her to the mall that day. I didn’t want to go shopping. I didn’t want to go anywhere with her. She acted like my best friend when we were in public, and it made me cringe. I may have only been 11 years old, but I knew she was a big phony and I hated her more than anything.

I never wanted a stepmother. She wasn’t part of the happily ever after I envisioned with the father I barely knew but adored. When he visited my aunt’s house, where I lived after my mom died when I was a toddler, he talked about the home he would buy for us someday. He said we would live there together as a family. He never mentioned a new wife.

When he started dating my stepmother, she and I enjoyed a brief honeymoon phase. She was attractive, fun and vivacious, charming me with shopping trips, movie dates and sleepovers. My aunt and older cousin had concerns. She was too young. She had no children. What did she know about being a mother? But I couldn’t wait to move in with her and my dad after their wedding.

Everything changed once we were living in the same house. It started with her wanting me to call her mom. I couldn’t. I already had two mothers, my real mom and my aunt. She tried to appear understanding, but I felt her resentment. My dad didn’t want any more kids. She was stuck with me and my 21-year-old brother, who was rarely home and wanted nothing to do with her.

As the months passed, the distance between us grew. When my father was around, we managed to be civil. But on the days he worked afternoons, she and I sat silently at the dinner table. Afterward, she shut herself off in their bedroom, leaving me to fend for myself. I escaped to my room, seeking comfort in books or music but feeling as if I had nothing and no one. The longer I lived in that house, the lonelier I became and the more I hated her.

Despite the tension between us, my stepmother showed off a happy mother-daughter relationship whenever other people were around. At the mall that day, while I skimmed racks of neon-colored tops, she engaged in giggly, bubbly chatter with the saleswoman.

“Are you two sisters?” I heard the saleswoman ask.

“No, she’s my daughter,” my stepmother said, laughing and shaking her head with false modesty.

“Oh, you look way too young to be her mom,” the saleswoman fawned. I seethed with anger as I watched my stepmom bask in the compliment.

We walked out of the store together, neither of us speaking. “You’re not my mother,” I said under my breath, as we entered the noisy mall.

“What did you say?” she asked, oozing venom through clenched teeth.

“I said,” speaking louder this time, so she would hear me, “You’re not my mother. I hate you!”

This time her fury trumped any concern about appearances, and she backhanded me across the mouth. I stood there in the middle of the mall, stunned by the taste of blood in my mouth and the sting of her hand on my face. I looked around and saw a few people watching us. I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go, so I turned and ran. I knew I was in trouble, I knew running would make it worse, but I didn’t care.

I found the nearest payphone and called my brother for a ride home.

Class of 2017

I opened the envelope in the driveway, shivering as the January wind ripped through my pink flannel pajamas. I scanned the letter quickly, finding everything I hoped to see. My son, a soon-to-be high school freshman, had earned honors placements in all his classes, a clean scholastic sweep. My first thought was to call my father, my own academic drill sergeant. The tears stung my freezing cheeks as I imagined his voice, knowing I could no longer hear it, but relishing the sound of it in my head.

As a parent of two, I am no stranger to the bittersweet thrill of watching my children reach milestones. As a woman who lost her parents at various stages in life, I also know the haunting emptiness of experiencing my own firsts without them. What I did not fully recognize until I opened that letter last week is how much more I ache over my children’s milestones now that all three of my parents are gone.

I brushed away my tears as I headed inside to tell my husband, wanting to escape the cold and my melancholy. I watched his anxious anticipation as he took in the vision of me in his office doorway, still shivering in my pink flannel pajamas, eyes wet and red, clutching a mysterious letter. I stumbled tearfully over the words, and somehow he managed to surmise that, in fact, no one had died and the letter contained positive news.

“I don’t think I can do this,” I told him, sobbing as he read it. “This high school thing — it’s not gonna work for me.”

I can only imagine what he was thinking as he patiently consoled me, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of: “Oh, boy. Here we go again.”

You see, I am not like those other mothers who healthily anticipate change and eagerly prepare themselves and their children for it. I was anxious, borderline neurotic, for weeks before my oldest child’s first days of elementary, intermediate and middle school. Now every time he or anyone else says “Class of 2017,” I catch my breath. In a year and a half, he will be driving, and I will be forced into the passenger seat. I will be able to suggest alternate routes, different turns, safer speeds, but he will control the wheel. How will I let go and allow him to venture into the unknown world of adult disappointments and heartbreak?

These were the bleak thoughts I wrestled with that day, as I waited for my son to get home from school. I wondered what advice my father, a stoic World War II veteran, would give. When he and I tussled verbally during my tumultuous teenage years, he often said, “You know, if there were classes on parenting back in my day, I would have taken them.” I’m sure he chuckled heartily at my expense over all the parenting books I read years later, knowing that none of them would prepare me for the hard-knock lessons of watching my own children grow up and away from me.

When my almost freshman walked up the driveway that afternoon, I thought of how proud my father, who hadn’t finished high school, had been of me when I graduated an honors student. Although I could not tell him about his grandson’s achievement, I felt his pride right there, next to my own.

I met my son at the door and gave him the letter, watching the relief and satisfaction wash over him as he read it. For a moment, I felt only his joy and none of my dread. “You earned this,” I said, hugging him tightly. “I am so proud of you, so happy.” And I was — tears, pink flannel pajamas and all.

2008 153_2

My soon-to-be high school freshman on his first day of fourth grade.