Oregon Trail

Location: Oregon, United States

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Having a Thirteen Year Old

If the word on the street is true, this will most likely be the first in a series. We have a 13 year old in the house now. Nothing new, really, Thomas has been thirteen since April, and William is almost 16 (that is another blog). But somehow, with William's Asperger Syndrome, we missed out on some of the "typical" teenager stuff that we keep hearing about from others. This weekend was particularly thirteen, maybe just because it was all together on one weekend vs. spread out over the summer. Nonetheless, it is definitely a new era.

Thomas has had an affinity for the more "Goth" looking kids at his school. He likes their thoughtfulness on issues of life, their creativity, and their friendship. He is not a Goth himself, but prefers to wear black, and has a purposely "half-empty" perspective on life. On the other hand, he can be heard cracking up laughing with his brother, or making all of us laugh with his silly antics.

This weekend, he asked if he could dye his hair black. Now, if you've seen him lately, you know that hair is not something I have chosen to fight about. His hair is out of hand, curly, and not especially styled. If he ties it in the back, he looks like Paul Revere, but he doesn't wear it like that in public. So now he wants it black. And I'm thinking to myself, "This is right out of the textbooks! He is differentiating! How funny is that! We can get a temporary dye thing and see how it goes - we don't have to go jet black, just darker, and see how he likes it." However, I suggested he let me talk to his dad before he sprang it on him. He didn't. Instead, Thomas said something like, "Hey dad, would it be okay if I dyed my hair black?" And Paul said, "Ugh! What do you want to do that for?" or something just about as supportive. Nice. Now, the good news, according to my friends with girls this age, is that at this point, any girl would have burst into tears and stomped out of the room or something along those lines. No, we have the fortune of having a boy, so instead of crying, he takes this cue as a signal to engage. Utilizing his future debate skills, he attempts to win over his audience. To no avail. I did finally talk to him privately and he agreed that a temporary, non jet black color would be okay. Thomas and I ran over to Target, and he pretended to be very interested in something across the aisle while I located the choices of colors (waaay too embarrassing to be looking at hair color). It turns out he's not even ready to do it - 6 weeks is a long time for your hair to be the wrong color if you hate it. So he will think about it.

No sooner did we end this conversation than he said, "Could we go to the store? I want to find some black jeans with those really skinny legs." So, he could use another pair of pants, and I'm thinking to myself, "As long as they aren't more than any other pair of jeans, I don't see why not." But the only place to get them around here is at Hot Topic, which is like this radical Rock N' Roll/Goth store where you can buy those big wide pants with all the zippers and chains on them, or the big long black coats, or even a straight-jacket for those days when you just don't think you will hold it all together without one. Fortunately, it sounds like Thomas is going for more of the Beatnik look, with the skinny jeans, vans, and maybe a belt with square studs on it. And the black hair. Differentiating indeed. (Well, okay, maybe not that different, since I'm sitting here with a piercing in my nose, but different than he's ever been.)

Sunday, then, he asked to go across the street from our church to Costco with a couple of friends to get a Churro. And I'm thinking, "Holy Moley, Rocky! He's going great gangbusters with the whole becoming his own person thing! This is really cool!" So I let him go. And he was gone a long time, and we all got bored waiting for him. It seemed pointless to try to go get him, since the place is like a mall, so we waited some more. Finally, we see them exit the building. I get out of the car and begin to cross the street to hurry the process along. I cross the street and look up to find them piled on one of those carts that you can load two pallets full of whatever on, with one of them pushing them madly down the center between all these cars. And I'm thinking, "Oy! How stupid can they get?" And I catch their eye (they are too far away for me to yell without turning into some freak) and sternly shake my head "No", at which point they all get off the cart. I instruct them to bring the cart back. Thomas volunteers, grabs the cart, and goes careening off at full speed to return it. This time I did yell, "Walk!", which he didn't, and I closed my eyes because I couldn't watch and heard a huge smacking/crunching/banging noise. Which evidently everyone else in the entire parking lot also heard because it was like one of those commercials where everything gets really quiet and they are all just looking and waiting to hear what you will say next. So I say, loudly, "Did you hit the car? Please tell me you didn't hit the car," and then calmly went over to make a big show of inspecting the vehicle, which he had not hit. The cart had gone under the car and crashed into the cement thing you pull up to when you park. Then I told Thomas to WALK the cart back to the store, and turned to go back to his friends, who then decided it was time for them to leave. Wise choice. And I'm thinking to myself, "So THIS is what they mean about raising a 13 year old. One minute they are practically an adult, and the next they do something proving they need constant supervision! And then blame you because they couldn't hear you telling them not to do it!" Hello! Isn't that the whole point? If you want to do stuff on your own, you're supposed to be smart enough to have that voice telling you when NOT to do something idiotic without your parent breathing down your neck saying, "Well, dear, let's just take a minute to consider the potential consequences of your actions here..."

The next day, Thomas showed us the bruises on his legs from rapping them against the cart when he crashed it into the concrete slab. I'm just glad that's all he has to show for it ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Amazing. Grace.

In case you do not know this already, Paul's mom passed away on Wednesday October 3rd. I find this is more difficult to write about than I expected. I don't want to eulogize. I don't want to give a play by play of our experience of it all. So I will go with random snapshots.

Friends and family. One of the most important things to be personally was that when Anita passed away, she had her dear friend, Faye, with her. Anita was ALL about friends and family and her definition of both was wide-ranging and inclusive. Although I am legally an "in-law", she accepted me as a daughter, something I could never quite wrap my head around. Over and over at the visitation, people would come up and say, "When I first moved to New Ulm, Anita was there. Every time she was going somewhere, she would call me and say, I'm going to lunch, why don't you come with me?" When people moved away, she kept in contact, calling and writing regularly. She had a tremendous capacity to continue to add people to her circle of friends and family. Amazing.

Visitation. Almost 300 people. Feeling like we'd been there for 2 1/2 hours when it had only been 45 minutes. Suddenly being very conscious of the fact that every germ of every person in the room was on my hands. Recognizing people, but not knowing who they were or how they fit in to the fabric of Anita's life. After all, this was part of her role to connect all the dots for me. "You remember the _______? (I know the name, but I don't know who they are.) They are the one's whose daughter ____________ and they used to come with us when we went ________ ..." I wish we could have name tags with the stories connecting the names to the faces. Story after story after story of how Anita had touched people's lives. I knew she was a fierce friend, an energetic contributor to her church and community in countless ways. Yet still, I'd underestimated her. Amazing.

Change. It was odd to watch us all assume a role Anita had done. Jon remembered nearly everyone. Jill knew the story behind nearly everyone. Paul became Skip again automatically, and his role was to connect with everyone. Denise and I kept things going smoothly, making lists, running errands, and ensuring everything got done. Tim fixed things that needed fixing (okay, not a role change for him, but one that needed doing). So it takes six people to do what she did alone. This is not really surprising, considering that, among other things, she took care of her husband Paul all alone for so many years. Amazing.

Family time. I can't pluck this out as a separate experience. How to describe it? Pleasant and pervasive, like the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, or rather, molasses cookies, since those were Anita's favorite.

Grace. We made it through. The kids did great, telling stories about their Oma, and being polite at the visitation and funeral in the midst of their grief. We made it despite the exhaustion inherent in waiting for someone to pass away, jumping when the phone rings, wrapping as much up as possible at work every day, staying up late checking flights, not having anyone to watch the dog until 12 hours before we left town, oversleeping the alarm and waking up when we should have been leaving the house. We made it through all the arrangements that have to be made, from choosing a coffin, verses, and flowers to choosing what food to serve after the funeral. (No jello per Anita's wishes. Cookies, candy, and bars at every table. Enough for leftovers. She would have wanted it that way.) And not only that, but we even enjoyed ourselves. We laughed, played cards, caught up with people, and cried.

In closing, here are words that people used over and over to describe Anita: Mom, Oma, sister, cousin, friend, co-worker, 5 foot spitfire, powerhouse, Energizer Bunny, friend, great cook, involved, caring, caregiver, friend, volunteer, Twin's fan, talkative, outgoing, friend, stubborn, opinionated, food-pusher, Mother Anita, friend.