Unattended

My son got a text from his university safety office telling of an unattended death.  This death occurred in a residence hall.  My heart stopped for just a moment.  My first thought was how sad it sounded.  My second thought went fleetingly to my son’s roommate.  He’s been struggling lately.  Was it wrong of my to be relieved that it was a different dorm?  I hope not.

As more information came out, it seems that a young man took his life.  Campus rumor was that he hanged himself.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds horrifying.  Initially, I wondered how.  Where did he do this in his room???  The closet?  from something on the ceiling?  Logistics don’t make sense.  I know that’s a terrible thought to have.  How alone must he have felt to decide that was his only option?  What about his roommate?  Did he have a roommate?  How must his parents feel?  What about the people on his floor?  In his dorm?

This morning, I found an article in the university paper.  Some boys on the floor noticed a smell coming from the room and realized they hadn’t seen the kid for a while.  They told the RA and police were called.  The article said that the boy had been dead for days. He was hanging.   For days?????  How does that happen????? Why did nobody notice him missing? Had his parents been in contact?  Did he have parents?  What must those poor kids who found him be thinking?  What about the RA who didn’t notice a student hadn’t been around?  How much guilt is he feeling?  Should he feel guilty?  Is the University liable for anything?  What drove this boy to kill himself? Why did nobody notice???? Where was his roommate?  His friends?  Did he have any?

I keep coming back to “unattended,”  and that scares me.  How can a kid on a campus of 30,000 be “unattended” for days?  I’ve been there, you can’t go five feet without bumping in to someone.  How can you make yourself so invisible that nobody notices that they haven’t seen you for a few days? Why are we so unaware of those around us that NOBODY appears to have realized this kid wasn’t where he should be?  What was his relationship with his adults that they didn’t think about not having heard from him for a few days?  How can a kid living in a busy dorm be able to be “unattended” long enough to have “hanged himself days ago”?

I kept kissing my son’s forehead this morning before I left for work. I’m sure it annoyed him.  He’s a tired college kid!  I blocked the stairway to the basement so my daughter couldn’t come upstairs without walking into my arms. She hates hugs! I’ve fought tears for a boy I don’t know since last night.  I can’t get an image of an “unattended” boy hanging from a structure in his dorm room for days.  Why??? Why???? What was the brokenness that led him to this choice?  What was the last thought that ran through his head?  Had he planned it for weeks?  Was it spur of the moment? Why???

Hug your kids!  Our college aged kids are so vulnerable right now.  They need our presence, they crave our attention. Find out what’s going on in their lives.  Ask about grades, friends, expectations, disappointments, booze, parties, average hot girls, etc.  My son probably gets tired of me asking if he’s drinking or taking drugs.  It’s always been part of our conversations.  He expects it.  I’m going to assume that one day I’ll hate the answer I get.  We’ll roll with that when it happens.  You’ve got to get your kids to talk to you.  You aren’t their besties, you’re their moms and their dads. You get to ask the tough questions.  You have the right to expect answers.  You can be mad, hurt, disappointed, angry.  You can be embarrassed because you don’t feel you have any right to get angry because you did it too.  Please don’t leave your college kid “unattended” under the guise of them being adults.  They really aren’t.  They’re still kids.  They need you to parent. He needs a hug from his mama.  She cries out to have her daddy call her princess.  College is scary.  For our babies and their parents.

Say a prayer, if you would, for that “unattended” kid, his family, his friends, and the countless others just like him.  Hug your babies tighter next time you see them.  Let them know you love them.

God bless you, kiddo.

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Conversations with Strangers

For years, my kids have given me a very hard time about my random conversations with strangers.  I’m likely to strike up a discussion with people I don’t know in gas stations, grocery stores, parking lots.  It doesn’t really matter where.  I just do it.  The kids long ago quit asking if I know the person.  They assume I don’t.  They’re probably right. They giggle and shake their heads.  My daddy was the same way.

We always said Daddy never knew a stranger.  Everywhere we went as kids, he’d be talking to someone.  Granted, I grew up in Western Kansas, so according to people in the Eastern part of the state, we know everyone.  Go to the same High School.  Ride in covered wagons.  Use the Pony Express.  All of those stereotypical thoughts.  But Daddy seemed to know everyone, at least in our eyes.  I know he didn’t, but Daddy was incredibly friendly.  No matter where we went, he’d talk to someone about something.  Sometimes, he’d talk to lots of somebodies.  It was natural for us to watch Daddy carry on conversations with people he didn’t know or had met once in the 1960s.  I’m kind of like that.

Occasionally my chats with strangers stay with me.  For whatever reasons, they stick.  Whether it’s the words, the person, the tone or the location, I don’t forget some of them.  I’ve learned from a few, cried because of a few more.  I wonder now what is going on in the lives of some of the cute little kids who showed me their light-up shoes.  Some of them are probably married with little kids of their own.  My thoughts drift to some of the hard luck stories I’ve heard as well.  Did they find what they needed?  Were jobs obtained?  Loans paid?  Families restored?  I don’t know, but I wish I did.

Recently, I’ve had some great conversations with my “unkonwn” friends .  A gentleman was sitting in his car in a gas station parking lot on Sunday as I was getting out to grab my wallet.  He greeted me and told me that he hoped I’d be able to enjoy the beautiful day.  (I didn’t start this convo, kiddos!) I told him we were there to watch my daughter play softball.  He laughed and showed me his phone.  He was playing chess online with his daughter at college in South Carolina.  He shared that she had just passed her MCAT and was applying to med schools this week.  He told me that they always play a game or two of online chess so she could relax.  He was beaming with pride about his girl.  He said he had a great dad.  One who had shown him how to be a good dad and a good man.  He was trying to teach his 3 kids what that looked like for them.

As the conversation continued, we talked baseball, school, parenting, injuries, disappointments, broken hearts, and respect.  He talked about his son who was an MMA fighter who had gotten hurt pretty severely.  He had to give up the fighting and was  searching for something.  The guy suggested coaching to him. He’s been doing it for a year or so and loves every minute.  Door shuts, find a new one.  Don’t cry about what’s no longer possible.  Mourn it for a bit and find your new calling, your new purpose.  The parallel to Aaron’s shoulder was interesting.  It was necessary for me to hear.  It’s what I’d been thinking.  I’m glad someone else could share their story with me.  It helps.

We talked for a little bit longer.  It took me much longer to get my iced tea than I had planned, but it was worth every minute standing in that parking lot talking to a complete stranger on a Sunday afternoon.  He wanted to talk.  I needed to hear what he had to say.  I know we’re not supposed to talk to strangers, but I’m a bit of a rebel.

Transitional Motherhood

Well, it begins.  Lynnie is driving herself to school.  Aaron is still not packing for college.  I’m contemplating getting a “real job.”  I  might have decided what I want to be when I grow up!  I’ve decided to call this stage in my life “transitional motherhood,” and I’m not sure how I feel about it!

Gone are the days of bottles and diapers, velcro shoes and backwards socks.  Now we’re dealing with tuition, rules of driving, missing car keys, which of my other “kids” is leaving for college, and smarmy teenage attitudes.  Not saying that I miss the diaper stage, but it was nice to hold the kid for a minute or two.

Alynne started her sophomore year yesterday.  I wrote the obligatory email about how she’s a freakshow and to explain her latex allergy.  She hates all of her classes, is stuck by a kid who not only has bad breath but seems to like to breathe on her, has a teacher who is way too positive, and feels picked on by one teacher who made a seating chart and put her by nobody she likes.  Poor baby!  On the other hand, I learned that she did more in 40 minutes as a proctor for her gym teacher than her brother did in 3 semesters at the same job.  To quote Caryl, “Hey, she didn’t suck!”  As for parenting this child, it really only seems to involve making sure she’s fed.  She’s not terribly chatty about things with me.  It’s ok.  She’ll probably tell me the important things.  If not, I’ll text her friends!  She’s pretty self-sufficient with laundry, and by that I mean she can start the washer.  She tries to stay out of friend drama.  Boys are nice friends, but……  Relatively low maintenance and not much mothering necessary.  Just make sure her food dish is full.

We got home from vacation, and Aaron ran right out the door on another adventure!  I thought, “Man, I wish he’d spend his last few days home.”  Then I realized we’d had a week together.  He needed guy time with our Youth Pastor and the boys.  When he got home last night, he ate and showered and headed right back out the door.  I’m trying to let him go.  I’ll have to do it next week.  I think I can do it relatively well.  I mean he’s only going to Lawrence.  He’s mentally ready to head out, but I’ll tell you that there has been no physical prep on his part.  I’m hoping he’ll get the room clean, his clothes packed, and whatever else needs to be done before Wednesday night.  We’ll see.  I’ll miss our long chats.  He tells me sometimes more than I want to know.

Mothering this kid has always been pretty easy.  He doesn’t like to be in trouble, so he generally stays out!  Parenting an “adult” is probably going to consist of giving advice and listening to stories.  Hopefully, I won’t be an annoying mom, but I do expect him to check in daily.  I’ll try not to pester him about doing his laundry, cleaning his room, remembering that girls are nothing but trouble.  That might be a bit tough, but I’m going to have to trust that he has listened to my  endless ranting on such things. I know he’ll need me, but I also know that need changes how it looks.

I’m mostly excited for transition mothering, but it makes me a little nostalgic.  I hope Alynne will allow a hug occasionally and maybe even hug back.  I pray Aaron continues to make mostly good choices.  I worry that Jon and I might struggle with our new identities.  I also know, without doubt, that God’s got us in His hands and has a grand plan.

Thankfulness

I’ve been in my feelings quite a bit lately, as my 15 year old daughter would say.  Missing my parents.  Realizing the boy is leaving for college in a few weeks.  The girl is going to be driving herself to school.  It’s a bit overwhelming sometimes!  Therefore, I started thinking about things that I’m grateful for.  Here’s part of the list! (not in any particular order!!!)

A.  My relationship with Christ

1.  My kids’ teachers over the years and mine.  There have been some doozies, but there have been a few more than amazing teachers in our lives. Lenore, Gayan, Amy, Emily, Jason, and Brandy are a small sampling of those.  You are appreciated more than you know!

2.  My friends – online and in real life.  Some of you know just what to say and exactly what I need to hear.  You are silly, serious, and hugely important to me! You believe in me when I’m not sure I do.  You encourage me, call me out, and like me even though I’m not always so sparkly. Some of  you have no idea how much you mean to me.  I cherish the unique relationships I’ve built.  Sass, laughter, sarcasm, joy, sports, and whatever else brought us together have made such huge impacts in my life!

3.  My husband.  Obvious choice, most of you would think.  He’s been there through the death of my parents, my very abrupt and mostly good change of personality, and a million other things. He didn’t know what he got himself into because I am very different from the young girl he married.  He stands by my crazy ideas and usually keeps his mouth shut.  He rarely complains, although he has plenty of reason to let it rip.  He’s a pretty good guy.

4.  My kiddos – dorks, both of them.  The boy is me through and through.  I’m not sure that’s always a good thing!  Lynnie was recently described as a “compassionate ballbuster,” and I think that’s true!  I heart them both very much.

5.  My family, extended family, and my “not-blood” family .  My blood family is pretty small, but God has placed some ridiculously amazing people in my life. I am often humbled and overwhelmed by the love and support that comes from people who aren’t blood related.

6.  My job – I get to “play” teacher without most of the crazy.  I’ve made good friends and kind of like getting those hugs from kiddos I’ve had to get after.

7.  My “orphaned” friends.  While many of my people have  lost a parent or have a broken relationship, I truly value the wisdom and friendship of those whose parents are gone.  You beautiful people understand the strangeness of some of my pain and quirky thought processes like no others.  Thank you for that!

8.  Concession Stand nights (and friends!)

9.  Books

10.  Cooking

11.  Writing

12.  Cheese

13.  Sharknado

14.  Exercise

15.  Baseball

16.  A really good cheeseburger

17.  QuikTrip

18.  Traveling

19.  Subarus

20. Chocolate chip cookies

It’s getting a little too real.

Last week, the boy and I went to his college orientation.  Oh my goodness!!!!  I think I’m still trying to process it.  Between the “Proud Parent of a Jayhawk” window sticker for my car, the parent calendar, and the bill, I’m a bit overwhelmed. First of all, I’m probably way too young to have a college freshman.  Secondly, when in the holy heck did this kid grow up????????

My son leaves for college in just over 4 weeks. One of those weeks will consist of our family vacation.  Another of those weeks is a trip with his good friend and the youth sponsor for our church.  In between now and August 20, he’s got work, some dentist appointments, an appointment for his foot, a weekend of football and softball with friends, and trips to hoop at Berk.  His time home is growing quite short.  Mostly I’m ok, but there are those moments of sheer panic. There is no way he’s ready to live on his own!  I have too much to teach him before he leaves. I’m quite sure this is all normal, but it’s not been my normal yet.

As the mom of a college kid, I have to find a balance in my life as I let him explore and expand his world.  I have the right to worry.  I have the responsibility to mother him as he becomes an adult.  I can insist on a daily text, a heads up on big plans and progress in the trophy husband realm. I plan on visiting every so often and take him to lunch.  I’ll buy him and his roommate, if that situation ever gets resolved, some snacks or movie passes.   I will check his grades and see how he is using his dining plan.  After all, I’m paying for this adventure!  (Ok, Jon is probably involved in this at least more than a little bit.) And I’ll pray for wisdom, guidance, and peace.

What I can’t do,what I won’t do, is stalk him.  Or badger him.  Or force him into corners. I can’t check his breath every time he comes in.  I’m not in a position to see if his eyes are bloodshot beyond his normal seasonal allergies.  I won’t track his every move via some parenting spyware.  He’s going to be facing decisions every single day.  I pray he makes good ones, but I didn’t always do that.  I won’t expect perfection from the kid.  I can’t.  It’s not fair to him or to me.

Ideally?  I want him to get straight A’s, a full ride opportunity, no heartache or disappointment, a brilliant internship, a job he loves that makes him a ton of money, and eventually a good girl.  Is it going to happen that way?  Most likely not in that entirety.  I’m willing to adapt my hopes a bit.  Good grades, a few scholarships to help along the way, a college job he enjoys, experiences he’ll never forget, and an overwhelming sense of self.  I want him to know who he is and who God wants him to be.

In the meantime, if you see me with a tear in my eye, remember I have allergies.

Daddy’s Medicine Chest

PhotoGrid_1434810292141I peeked into Daddy’s medicine chest while I was back in Stockton this weekend.  His things were there.   After nearly 4 years, it looked like his toothpaste and toothbrush expected to be in use soon.  The shaving supplies were lined up in anticipation of their next call to duty.  His foot cream and lotion sat on a shelf until it was their turn. His cologne still smelled like it used to. I caught my breath and listened for his footsteps in the hallway. I didn’t hear them. I knew I wouldn’t.

I opened other doors this weekend.  Everything I found was just like he’d left it.  His suit hung in the closet in the spare room.  The bells silently begged to be rung.  Fishing poles stood waiting for a trip to the lake.  Tools had gathered a bit of dust in the workroom.  His handwriting was on boxes.  A hole in the wall needs to be repaired.  Everything seemed to waiting for Daddy.

Everywhere but the cemetery. It’s not waiting.  His headstone is up there above a very heavy urn of ashes.  A bell is carved into its black surface.  My name is on it.  It’s beautiful, and I hate it.

I don’t go to Stockton much.  It’s hard.  I’m welcome to come.  My stepmother probably wishes we’d visit more often. I probably should.  This was a bittersweet trip.I didn’t really want to go.  It was my 25 year class reunion.  It was great to see old friends, catch up, stay up way too late, and laugh more than I thought I would.  But it was pretty tough this weekend because it was Father’s Day and so close to the anniversary of Daddy’s death.

My daddy wasn’t perfect, but he was mine.  He worked so hard all of the time.  I know it wasn’t easy raising 3 kids on his salary.  He did the best he could.  He would tough love the heck out of us, laugh with us, play with us, take us sledding and 3 wheeling.  He’d tell stories and bad jokes.  He loved to fish and tinker.  Outside was his happy place.  He wanted to grow old in Colorado, near a river, running a motel.  Not sure if Bonnie shared that dream, but I think she wouldn’t have been too disappointed.  As long as he found somewhere else to cook and clean his fish.

I felt whispers of my daddy’s presence this weekend.  In my daughter as she wished to go out to the lake and fish.  In one of his former students and wrestlers as he stopped by the house so our girls could hang out.  In my friend’s memories of the time we took tomatoes from Daddy’s garden.  I’m pretty sure he had those damned things counted.  Right, Steven?  He was there in some ways all weekend.  Especially in his medicine chest.

I miss you, Daddy.

Stories

I’ve always loved stories.  As a little girl, I had a book in my hand or nearby all the time.  About the only time I didn’t read was when we were in the car.  It made me sick.  I could escape, dream, create while I read.  I’d read about anything I could buy, borrow, or check out from the library. Stephen King, much to Mama’s dismay, was my favorite.  She was worried about me having too many dark thoughts so she told the school librarian not to let me read any more of his books or others like them.  The librarian then introduced me to Lewis Grizzard, God rest his soul.  He was a humorist with a twisted since of funny, and I probably shed a tear when he died.  Somewhere between the King of Horror stories and a column about sex, Elvis, and Harry peas, a passion grew.

Not only did I want to read stories, but I wanted to know the stories of the people I encounter.  I look at people around me and create a character and storyline in my head.  The stranger walking painfully across the street with a cane becomes a vet who was never fully able to recover from his injury.  His family is long gone, and he seeks solace in the company of friends at a nearby apartment house.  The young woman covered in tattoos with amazing blue hair is living her crazy dream of wandering, serving, and sharing love and laughter.

Sometimes I’m judgmental and maybe fall to stereotypes. Occasionally, I almost want to go ask for the truth of their story.   Most of the time my brain can’t create the story fast enough or well enough.  I’m sure I’ve given terminal diseases to people who will go on to live long lives. I’ve created tropical vacations for frazzled mommies at the grocery store.  I want to know who they are.  If knowing their stories isn’t a possibility, I’m content to make them up.

That little girl with a book in her hand exists in a slightly taller, less awkward mom of two.  I have books in various stages of “doneness” all over the house and car.  I’m still not picky about what I read.  If it has words, I’m on it.  Stephen King remains high on my list, but I’ve added other authors.  Diana Gabaldon has infuriated me with amazing stories and terribly long droughts between them.  Brad Meltzer and Harlan Coben intrigue me and draw me into their thrillers. Erik Larson brings history to life and makes me feel like I’m there.   I’ll read anything one of my daughter’s teachers recommends.  Gayan, you have eclectic tastes, and I’m never disappointed.  By the way, you all need to read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

With all of the stories I’ve read, I can’t help but feel like I have stories to tell.  So many of you have told me I should write, and I think I’ve finally figured out what I want to do when  I grow up.  As my role of mom is changing, I’ve decided that I can start to find room to dream big for myself.  I’m taking a huge leap of faith over the next few months and am starting to write much more. I’m going to be a writer!!!!!   Thank you for pushing me and encouraging me.  I heart you all bunches!!!!