Time to Change

“Next week at this time you will be waking up in Florence.”

As in Florence, Italy.

My nearly-ten-year-old son has his first passport in hand and in less than a week will be joining my high school students and me on a week-long tour of Verona, Venice, Florence, and Rome.

Of course, he will also be joined by his beloved grandmother, one of his best friends, his friend’s devoted and wonderful parents, and chaperones that include people he knows and loves.

Not to mention his mother.

DSC_0039But yet he’s nervous.

Very nervous.

And sometimes this surprises people.

I think back to my world when I was nine. It was small—as was the world of many-a-nine-year-old, I suppose. Travel was never an option, and I did not hop on my first plane until I was 24 years old—to England, no less, to study at the University of London.   When people heard about my impending trip, their first words, understandably so, were, “You must be so excited!” My reply could only be—as a responsible young adult with a full-time job—“Of course! I can’t wait!”

But that was not true.

While I was thrilled and grateful for the opportunity, I was nothing short of terrified. The unknown has always given me pause, and this was such a colossal unknown with parts I couldn’t even formulate in the most fertile recesses of my imagination. When I wrote in my journal as the plane took off, my hand trembled. I trembled.

Of course, all’s well that ends well as someone quite famous once quipped. I had one of the most personally and professionally fulfilling experiences of my life. I was a very responsible 24-year-old who learned how very not grown up I actually was.

Travel then became not just a desire but a compulsion. The most profound lessons I have learned in this life have been in places far away from home.

And this is what I want for my children. I would spend my last penny bringing my children to parts unknown because I know—truly know—the benefits, how travel changes the way we see everything, how we transform and grow.

Oscar’s transformation starts this Thursday. Unlike me, he, at only nine, is free to articulate his nervousness. I know once he’s there and the unknown shifts to the magical he will be quite fine.

More than fine.

He will grow.

And I will have a front-row seat.

Perfezione.

And Another Door Opens

I was there one strange night in New Jersey when he had to hand over a roll of film to officials after photographing a series of smokestacks that he may or may not have been authorized to photograph.

I have stood by his side in the bracing cold on the streets of New York City so he could get the perfect shot of a doorway or a window or a shadow on the sidewalk.

I have drifted off to sleep at night as he has slipped outside to photograph our own city streets.

I also watched him gently fall into call center work to pay his graduate school bills.

And as he rose through the ranks to program and project manager positions, earning enviable salaries commensurate with his work ethic and smarts, I saw his love of photography move to the proverbial back burner—never leaving his side but relegated to a mere avocation as the demands of work necessarily enveloped him.

And then a layoff.

IMG_4333A recalibration.

A hearty and heartfelt discussion of what is truly important, of what we ought to do with the very short time we are given, of the advice we’d give to our own children in a similar situation.

Remembering the adage, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I have always known Don Farias was a photographer.

And now he is Don Farias, Photographer.

His business.

His life.

One of his great loves.

Now center stage—his and ours.

A Child’s Dream of Death

“Mom, I had a bad dream. I had a dream that you died.”

And with that I bolted upright at 4 AM on Friday morning, not nearly enough hours of sleep under my belt.

My nine-year-old son was standing in the doorway, looking vulnerable, scared, and much smaller than he does in daylight hours.

He had never had a dream like this before—at least none that he could remember or thought to tell me about.

He asked if he should go back to bed. I asked him what he wanted. And for the first time in many years he crawled into the tiniest space in our bed, barely fitting but exactly where he needed to be. He held my hand and drifted immediately back to sleep.

DSC_0032And I stared at him—then at the ceiling, the wall, out the window, listening to him breathe, feeling his grasp, sometimes light other times more forceful, on my hand; and I wondered what he was thinking, what he was dreaming now, what precipitated this moment, what he was “working out” through his dreams.

Thoughts of my own mortality necessarily darted around, swooping in and out of my sleepy consciousness. I contemplated what my presence meant and means to my children, what my absence, my death, would mean–not thoughts I was planning on having 90 minutes before my alarm was set to buzz on a Friday morning but thoughts clearly worth considering.

It’s so easy, I think, to minimize our worth in someone’s life. Days are relentlessly busy with working, with cleaning and cooking and laundry and checking things off never-ending to-do lists that relegating our positions to those of scullery maid, chauffeur, and/or human ATM seems not only simple but natural.

But my son’s dream reminded me that no matter how natural these thoughts may be, they are erroneous—and deceptively so.   We do matter to others, to our children—not because of our ample cleaning skills, drivers’ licenses, or available cash flow but because we’re here—with them—because the thought of our not being here gives them nightmares.

Gives us nightmares.

And more than enough to think about.

A Day in My Life: March 2014

The title is a bit of a misrepresentation, but the schedule I have been keeping lately has necessitated a slightly different approach to this, one of my favorite projects.

Instead of 14 photographs capturing a single day, I have chosen my fourteen favorites from the last month.

Because that is the best I could do this month.

And I have to believe sometimes good enough is indeed good enough.

Please visit These Ripples and Waves for another take on this project at http://www.theseripplesandwaves.com/

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They make each other laugh, and, yes, sometimes cry, but that is love.

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Edgar and his beautiful birth sister

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August, age 4, gets yet another love note from a preschool admirer.

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Edgar is mesmerized by his hair and the shadow it casts.

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August, still holding on, but just barely so.

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Oscar mastered his two-wheeler this month.

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Oscar less-than-amused . . . for the moment.

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One of the finest kitchen assistants I know

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Blueberry deliciousness came out of my oven this month.

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Father and Son

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Our budding marine biologist . . . and he’s not kidding.

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Protection . . . Big Brother Style

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When you’re nine, you have a lot to think about.

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A little sustenance before Edgar’s Student of the Month Award

Clothes Make the Young Man

Admittedly, there weren’t a lot of rules in my house growing up.  The lines in the sand were often blurry and constantly shifting.  But one area that was always non-negotiable related to my clothing: School clothes were school clothes and play clothes were play clothes, and never the two shall meet.

There were separate drawers—the few outfits that were in good repair, stain-free, and presentable resided in one part of my bureau and were strictly for school; the clothes with rips, questionably blemished, or that still fit but barely so lived elsewhere.  I never would have even asked to wear a pair of my play pants to school or my school pants out on an after-school roller-skating tour of my neighborhood.

As I grew up and grew older, right or wrong, I hung onto this notion: Work clothes are work clothes and weekend clothes are weekend clothes.  Invariably there is some overlap, but for the most part there are discernible distinctions.  I would feel very odd at work in one of my old oversized sweaters that has seen its share of yard work, basement-cleaning, and the occasional nap.  Similarly, often the moment I get home from work, all things wool and constricting are immediately swapped Mr. Rogers-style for fleece and cotton.

And I have surely passed this along to my children.  While I tend to be fairly flexible regarding what they wear out to play, I am staunch that what they wear to school be a step up from their after-hours loungewear.

As I write this, though, I am realizing how incredibly small this must seem in the grand scheme of all things.

Clothes.

Honestly, who cares?

But while my fashion maven days are on temporary hold, I still care about how I present myself in the world outside my home.  And while I don’t want my children to become so overly concerned with their appearance to the exclusion of everything else, I also don’t want them to think it’s okay to give zero consideration to how they go out in public and what the effects of their choices, again right or wrong, may be.

Which is why, for the first time, I am having considerable qualms about the ubiquitous dress-down day.  For professionals, this often means jeans at work.  For high school students, it may mean a relaxation of the dress code, perhaps letting students wear hats.  For elementary school students it invariably means a pajama day—or a variation on this tireless theme.

When children are young, even I, one who, personally, could never go out in public in sweatpants let alone pajamas, find this charming.  A classroom full of preschoolers or early elementary-age children in their Star Wars and/or Dora pajamas is nothing short of adorable.  But once students are of a certain age, it strikes me as awkward—even unnecessary.

IMG_5750Tomorrow, Oscar, who is in the fourth grade and every day looking less like a boy and more like a young man, has been invited to wear his pajamas to school to help raise money for  a very worthy cause.

I asked him what he thought about that.

He told me he’d feel “weird” wearing his pajamas to school but that he wanted to contribute to the cause.

Then he stopped and said, “Wait, I can donate and still dress for school, right?  I can give the dollar and just wear my regular clothes.”

I told him he could—stopped short of saying he should.

And he told me—simply and without fanfare–that’s what he planned to do.

Tonight I arranged my son’s school clothes, as I do every night, and put a pair of fleece pants next to his usual sweater and jeans. He will make the final decision in the morning, determine how he wants to present himself to the world.

How we present ourselves to the world . . .

Maybe it’s not such a small thing after all.

Taking His Time

Today my nine-year-old son rode a two-wheeler bike—without assistance and, incidentally, with discernible gusto.

This may not on the surface appear to be big news, but in fact it is because today was the first time.

A year ago, when he was eight, training wheels were required, a panting parent endeavoring to hold up the rear.  That’s where he was then.

And this is where he is now.

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We never pressured him, never told him kids half his age were flying through the streets with the greatest of ease.  As his parents, we didn’t tell him we were riding our own bikes well before age eight.  We didn’t say this was something he should learn to do.

We let him come to it in his own time.

And I am so glad we did.

Today he rode with confidence and enthusiasm.  There was no pain—despite the occasional and requisite spill—no one forcing him to do something he wasn’t ready or inclined to do.  He wanted this, and that determination led to his success.

We could have put our son a bike at age four.  We could have spent a number of painstaking hours trying to make it happen.  But waiting until he was ready, until he wanted it, simply made sense.  And because he was ready and chose this, it was virtually effortless—for him and for us.

And, to me, that feels a whole lot better than being able to say, “My son rode a two-wheeler when he was four (or five or six or seven or eight).”  His accomplishments are his, and as such he is allowed to have them in his own time.

My son can now ride a two-wheeler, and when he’s thirty years old and still able to ride a bike, it’s not going to matter that he came to it a few years after some of his peers.

Maybe much of what we try to rush falls into the same category—all the milestones we try to hurry along and check off the list.

But when we’re lucky, life is long. And it’s certainly not a race.  Nor is it a contest.

Indeed, it’s a whole lot less painful when we give ourselves permission to do things only when we’re ready—and when we give others the same space.

In fact, it can be downright beautiful.

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Occasional Digging Required

It was mid-afternoon when his mood had turned suddenly foul, his behavior bordering on the improper.  He was lashing out for no good reason and frequently hiding his face in his hands.  It was clear something was brewing, but he wasn’t talking.

So I waited.

And I waited some more.

Meanwhile his behavior escalated, and it was obviously time to dig.

I told him I didn’t want to take his actions at face value, that I wanted to find out what was causing him to engage with his family so uncharacteristically.

He seemed relieved—knowing a consequence was not imminent.

And then he started to cry.

His younger brother was getting an award, and he admitted that though he was proud he was also extremely jealous.

He said he was crying because he didn’t like the fact that he felt jealousy, didn’t like the way it made him feel.

Reason does not customarily reside with intense feelings.  So, telling my nine-year-old son that he has had plenty of recognitions and that there are many more to come would never have sufficed.

So I asked him what specifically he didn’t like about jealousy.

He said he hated that he felt that way when underneath it all he really was so, so proud of his brother.

He said he wished he could control his feelings.

But of course he can’t.  We can’t.  Feelings are often irrepressible and generally ill-timed.

So, I asked him to consider attending his brother’s award ceremony and simply aim to control his behavior—and then  just see what happens, see if his feelings change because he made a conscious decision about his behavior.

And he did.

And so they did.

Simple as that.

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