First Day of Sophomore Year

Today is the first day of school at our daughter’s school. She will be starting her sophomore year of high school. Seriously…only three more years of school before she off to college. How can that be?!?

She survived…even thrived in freshman year! She learned a lot academically, socially, and athletically. She got good grades. She loved her teachers. She made new friends. She had some solid extracurricular activities. In fact, she played varsity field hockey and varsity lacrosse, and she was a basketball cheerleader. The cheerleading part is a big deal. She is not one who likes to perform. She likes to play sports. She isn’t looking at her “audience” when she plays sports, but cheerleading is different. I was very proud of her for trying something new. And it wasn’t just new to her. Her school hadn’t had cheerleaders in years, so she was a part of a new team altogether.

And now she begins her second year of high school. She has already had a few field hockey games. She had school orientation yesterday, and after a rough morning of “I have nothing to wear,” she rebounded after orientation, telling me she was thrilled with her schedule for the year. Even though she had no idea which of her friends were in her classes, she was happy with her schedule. Whew! That’s a win!

The first couple months of school, my husband will drive her to school, or she will ride with friends. I will pick her up after field hockey practice most of the time, and I’m sure she will get rides with friends when she can. But in October, she should be getting her driver’s license, and life will change for all of us. She will drive herself to school and home from practice in the afternoons. She will be able to meet her friends on weekends on her own. I won’t have to take her where she wants to go, because she will be able to drive herself. It’s going to be a big change, and though I’m sure I will worry every single time she drives away, she will be gaining some independence.

Independence is the goal. Our little girl is growing up…that’s for sure.

Last night, before going to bed, she made sure she had everything she needs for school today…notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, books, book bag, etc. We made sure she is prepared for a new school year. After forcing her to take “first day of school” pictures, my husband drove her to school this morning, and they stopped at Starbucks on the way. I feel sure she reunited with friends she hasn’t seen this summer, and right now, she’s likely meeting her new teachers. She’ll eat grilled cheese from the cafeteria at lunch, and if she doesn’t get a ride home with a friend, I’ll pick her up after school.

And chances are, she will tell me very little till she is good and ready to tell me.

But I’m embracing this 10th grade year, even though I prefer an eternal summer…and I’m already planning vacations for the holidays, spring break, and next summer. It’s what I do. We always need something to look forward to. Because I want her to know that life is meant to be lived NOW. Do the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do. See the world. Enjoy your friends. Learn new things.

I’m not going to pretend I’m happy the school year is starting. I’m not. If I could do it, life would be one big adventure. But reality is that she needs to go to school…for lots of reasons.

Our baby is not a baby anymore.

Let’s get this school year started…and I’ll be looking forward to the next holiday!

 

 

And They Said It Wouldn’t Last

On August 19, my husband and I will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. We were married in 2000, when we were both rapidly approaching our mid-thirties. We had known each other for three years, having met through a mutual friend with whom I worked.

I was 33, and he was 34, and when we got married, I was living in Mobile, Alabama, and he was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. We had met in Mobile in 1997, but he had moved to Charlotte soon thereafter, so we had a long-distance relationship, and I had no plans of moving unless I was married. I’m sure I could have found a job in Charlotte, but at 33, I wasn’t willing to make a partial commitment to a man; I needed a full-on commitment if I were going to move.

So we were married on August 19 in the historic First Presbyterian Church in Wetumpka, Alabama. When we returned from our two-week Hawaiian honeymoon, we went to Mobile and loaded a truck with all my belongings and moved them to Charlotte. I had lived in different places, so moving was not a challenge for me. In fact, the longest I had ever lived anywhere at that point in my life was nine years…moving wasn’t a problem. Of course, my family was in Alabama, but I could visit whenever I wanted, and we talked every day.

Not gonna lie. The first year was challenging. Remember, we were 33 and 34. We had both been living alone for years, and I loved living alone….eating cereal for dinner in front of the TV; staying up as late as I wanted; being in charge of the remote control; not answering to anyone…you get the picture. We were two (and still are) two very different people. He likes to be home. I like to be on the go. In fact, home, for me, is just a place to change clothes. And I’m always planning my next trip. He’s quiet. I’m not. Seriously, he is very quiet and reserved. But we were married. Suddenly, I had to be more grown up. I had to cook and eat real meals at the table instead of sitting cross-legged on the floor. My husband liked to go to bed earlier than I did, and he always held the remote control. Life was different, and when I was down, he didn’t understand. What did I not like about leaving a one-bedroom apartment? Well…that little one bedroom apartment was my space, and after getting married, it seemed I rarely had my space. I’m sure there were people who could sense the tension and thought, “They’ll never make it.”

But one year in, I was accustomed to married life. In fact, one year in, and I was flat out enjoying it. We got a dog…an Airedale Terrier I wanted to name Fannie after a college friend, but the husband wouldn’t go for “Fannie.” We opted for Annie instead. She has been gone for several years now, but I still wish we had named her Fannie.  And then, 2.5 years after we married, we were expecting a baby. We found out in May 2003 it was a girl, and we were thrilled. She was born in October of 2003, and no one ever loved a baby more than we love that girl. But again, there was added stress. We were sleep deprived. We were exhausted (mostly me). But after the first few months, we started to get more sleep. We started to have more fun, and the stress of having a baby in the house subsided. We were a happy little family of three.

It hasn’t been all fun and games. In 2005, my husband’s beloved grandmother passed away, and all of us were heartbroken. She was kind and caring, and she was a force of nature. At the same time, my mother was driving from Mobile to Birmingham (4-5 hours) all the time, trying to get my grandmother settled in to assisted living, and my daddy was having undiagnosed health issues. In February 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died that same year…eight months after his official diagnosis. My heart was broken. While I had lost grandparents, I had never experienced a loss as terrible as that one. It was the hardest time of my life, at that point. I was truly devastated. My heart ached in a way I didn’t know it could.

After that, my husband had not one, but two brain surgeries, and we survived that. I say “we,” because it was hard on both of us. Physically and mentally, it was difficult for him. It was emotionally and mentally hard on me. He came back from surgery a different person, but we got through that too. You can read about it here. And then, I lost my mother in December 2017. It took the wind out of my sails. I slept for a month afterward. I had learned some coping skills after the losing my daddy, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my mother. I can still get upset at any moment, and it has been 20 months since she passed.

But my husband helped. He understood. He knew that when I stayed in bed in January of 2018, I needed to be there. He looked out for me. He supported me. And then, one of my dearest friends died in June 2018 after battling cancer for 30 years. My husband supported me through that too.

We’ve had our share of heartaches, but we are a team, and we deal with them together. We have had our share of disagreements, but we’ve moved past them. Sometimes he thinks I’m absolutely insane, and vice versa. I’m not going to lie and say it has been easy. It hasn’t always been easy. I don’t always understand him, and he doesn’t always understand me, but we try.

But married life hasn’t been all about loss. It hasn’t been all been difficult. We love raising our daughter together. We love sitting out on the patio together in the evening…sipping Prosecco and listening to jazz music. We have enjoyed going to lots of concerts together. At night, before we go to sleep, we watch an episode of Chrisley Knows Best, The Young and The Restless, or CSI: Miami. He helps me plant the garden every year, and I tend it. We both love to watch college and NFL football, so fall is a busy time for us. And we try to go to all our daughter’s field hockey and lacrosse games. He brings me coffee in bed every morning, because he learned that I’m a lot happier if I wake up with caffeine. I go to bed earlier, because he likes to get to bed earlier than I do. We laugh a lot…at each other and with each other. We have fun together. We are thankful we wake up every day. We appreciate the life we have together.

Our daughter is about to start her sophomore year of high school, and in three short years, she will be heading off to college somewhere. We will enter a new phase of life, God willing. And we will have to adapt to more changes. Right now, we aren’t always on the same page for our plans for the empty nest years. But I’m sure we will find ways to compromise. We will find ways to make sure we both get to “live the dream.” He wants the Gulf Coast, and I want to travel to different cities. We will find a way to make it all happen, and we will have fun along the way….God willing.

Happy 19th Anniversary, Cary! And they said it wouldn’t last…

Too Young To Be A Grandparent!

Last week, I attended a baby shower for the daughter of some friends. The daughter is my friend too. It was great fun…food,  family, friends. As I sat talking with folks at the shower, I looked around, and as I looked at my friends who were about to become grandparents, I thought, “They’re not old enough to be grandparents!” They’re still young, vibrant people! But they are old enough. In fact, their daughter is a full-fledged adult with a great job, married to a great guy, and they are both contributing to society and paying their own bills.

A few years ago, as my husband and I sat watching the Heisman Trophy Award Ceremony from our living room, we loved the interviews with each candidate. One candidate, Amari Cooper, was from the University of Alabama, my alma mater. They interviewed Cooper, and he told stories about this youth in Miami. And they interviewed his mother, a lovely lady.

When the interview with Cooper’s mom came on, my husband turned to me and said, “Wow! She looks really good for an older lady!” I agreed. And then I started doing the math. At the time, Cooper was likely about 20 years old.

After a minute or so, I said to my husband, “Amari’s mother probably isn’t an older lady.” He pointed out that Amari was about 20 years old, so she had to be older. That’s when I reminded him that we are older parents, but Amari’s mother was probably younger than we are. I don’t remember if I grabbed my laptop or if they told her age on the segment, but at some point, we learned her age was several years younger than ours…and she had a son who would soon be starting a career in the National Football League! That year, he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, but Cooper was the fourth pick in the overall draft and signed a fat contract with the Oakland Raiders. *Just yesterday, Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a first round draft pick.*

At the time of that Heisman ceremony, I was 47 years old and had an 11-yr-old daughter. My husband was 48. Because most of our friends who have kids the same age are about the same ages we are, we fell into believing everyone is that way. We lost sight of the fact that most people who have 11-yr-olds are younger than we are. According to this article in Allure magazine, the average age of a first time mother in the US is 28, considerably younger than I was when I gave birth at 36.

So our friends who have now become grandparents since that shower are old enough to be grandparents.  We just have a skewed view…thinking parents of grown children have to be older than we are. We are plenty old enough to have grandchildren. In fact, the average age of a first-time grandparent in the United States is 48. If I’d had a child when I was 25, and if that child had a child at 25, then I would be a grandmother right now…and I’d fit right in with societal norms.Since we were later than average having children, we are later than average having grandchildren, and we don’t plan to have them for at least ten more years. If our daughter is as old as I was when she was born, I won’t be a grandmother till I’m 72 years old. And that’s OK too.

Back in 2003, our friends were having babies in their late 30s, so we started thinking everyone was having babies in their mid to late 30s. Those same friends who were “late bloomer” parents are likely to be “late bloomer” grandparents too, so we will be in good company. We don’t fit into societal norms for the age of first-time grandparents, but we fit in with our societal norms, since lots of our friends are the same age we are.

The point? Any age is OK to be a grandparent! When you become a grandparent, you’re just happy to have a new grandbaby! If you need ideas for baby gifts for someone who’s having a baby, here are some ideas I talked about earlier this year.

We’re lucky to have these younger friends who have just become grandparents, and we’re lucky to know their daughter too. They bring joy to our family, and I’m not gonna lie…the new grandmother can cook!

Congratulations to our young friends on the new granddaughter!

***Our friends’ granddaughter was born on October 15 and weighed 4 pounds, 10 ounces!***

 

 

 

 

 

She’s Growing Up, But She’ll Always Be My Baby

My little girl isn’t so little anymore. In fact, she’s the age at which she would be mortified if she knew I’m writing this. But she doesn’t know. Ignorance is bliss.

Right now, she’s upstairs with a friend getting ready for her last middle school dance. She’s finishing up eighth grade. Her school has two middle school dances a year, one in the fall and one in spring.

It’s hard for me to believe this is her last middle school dance. Truly, it seems like just a few months ago she was excited about her first middle school dance…in sixth grade. Afterward, she and all her friends could hardly wait to tell me how many boys asked them to dance! But it has been two years. Wow. She’s not even excited about this one. These eighth graders have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.

As part of their upcoming eighth grade moving up ceremony (graduation), the school had parents send in pictures of the kids from kindergarten. Since my daughter started at the school in transitional kindergarten when she was four, I used that picture instead. She looks so sweet and so unjaded.

IMG_5699

September 2008, age 4 (almost 5!)

She started transitional kindergarten about six weeks before her fifth birthday. I remember that first day of school like it was yesterday. I remember watching her get out of the car in carpool with her tote bag and walk up the sidewalk by herself. I remember trying not to cry.

Today, when I turned in the picture for them to use for the ceremony, I told the middle school administrative assistant how I had to convince my daughter to wear a bow in her hair on picture day in transitional kindergarten. My child was the little girl who at 18 months declared, “Ruffles are for babies.” She has always had very definite ideas, and she sticks to her guns. When she was two years old, her pediatrician declared her to be a “classic strong-willed child,” telling me, “it will drive you crazy, but it will serve her well.” But on picture day in TK, I was able to convince her to wear a bow in her hair. I told her she didn’t have to wear it all day…just till after pictures. I reminded her that one of her friends (the daughter of my friend, Leah) regularly wore bows as big as her head…we are in the south, after all. When I picked her up after school on picture day that year, she didn’t have the bow in her hair, but she assured me she wore it for the picture.

I look at that picture and remember that sweet little girl who thought her mommy was the best mommy on earth and her daddy was the best daddy on earth. She thought we knew everything and could do anything.

IMG_5704

December 2007, age 4

Now, at age 14, she knows we don’t know everything, and she knows we can’t do everything. She’s more jaded than she was at four, because she has more life experience. She sees the world isn’t the perfect place she thought it was then. She knows the agony of defeat. She knows what it feels like to get a less than stellar grade. She knows injuries can end a sports season. She knows some people don’t have places to live. She knows there is no Santa Claus. She knows more about brain surgery than she should, because she watched her daddy suffer through it. She knows what it’s like to lose a grandmother. She knows what cancer looks like, since she has watched my friend suffer with it. She knows everybody isn’t nice all the time. She knows some friendships aren’t forever.

But as much as that life experience has jaded her a little, it has also made her appreciate the great things about life. She knows she goes to a great school in a fun city, and she’s fortunate to live in the United States of America. While she hates the agony of defeat, she loves the thrill of victory, and she knows it takes hard work, a good attitude, and confidence. She knows what it feels like to make an A+ and how great it made her feel when her history teacher told her he was impressed with the essay she had worked hard on. She knows there is a spirit of Christmas. She knows her daddy survived brain surgery. She knows sometimes kindness comes from  unexpected places. She knows most people are nice, and sometimes, friends we thought were gone come back around.

She knows that while parents can be embarrassing, we love her unconditionally. She knows we want her to live a good life in her own way. She knows experiences are far more valuable than things. She knows people may be able to take things, but they can’t take memories. She knows if she isn’t feeling well, her daddy and I will try to make her feel better…physically or emotionally. She knows we support her, but sometimes she has to be her own advocate.

As she finishes up middle school and prepares for high school, we continue to be her biggest supporters. We continue to tell her we love her every single day. We cheer her on at sporting events. We listen to her. We spend time with her and her friends. We read over her essays before she turns them in. We show her the world is full of different cultures and special people. We become her audience when she needs to practice a presentation. When she doesn’t feel well, we wish we could fix it. We remind her God will take care of us.

Tonight I will drop her off at her last middle school dance. The eighth grade girls don’t seem excited about it, but they’ll be glad they went. Like I said, they have one foot in middle school and one foot in high school.

And just when I think she is spreading her wings and flying away too fast, she surprises me. Last night, my husband was out of town, so our daughter crawled up into bed with me to watch TV for a little while. She cuddled up next to me, wrapped her arms around me, and said, “You’re the best mom in the whole world.” She cuddled for little while, and she said it several times, reminding me of when she was four years old and thought I knew everything. While I make her hug me once a day, those impromptu moments are hard to beat.

Yes, I miss that little four-yr-old who didn’t want to wear hairbows, dresses, or tights with her dance leotard. I miss that little four-yr-old who was so sweet and innocent. I miss that four-yr-old who thought Mommy and Daddy were the greatest people ever. But I love the big person she is becoming. I love that she wants good things for people. I love that she is already talking about college but loves hanging out with me…sometimes. I love that she loves college football as much as I do…and knows way more about it than I do. I love that she has good friends. I love that she is athletic. I love that she loves rollercoasters. I love that she enjoys travel. I love that she becomes more independent every day. I love that she has an appreciation for music. I love that she discovered a passion for art this year in school. I love that she is compassionate. I love that she is outgoing. I love that we have real conversations. I love that she expresses her opinions. I love when I do something for her, and she says, “Thank you, Mama.” I love this 14-yr-old.

Every night when I go upstairs to kiss her goodnight and tell her to “go to sleep soon,” I sit on the loveseat in her room and have a quick chat with her to reconnect one more time. If anything’s bothering her, she will usually tell me then. If she’s upset about something, it can be a long conversation. But if all is well, after we talk a little while, I stand up and walk to the door, turning around to say, “Goodnight! I love you! You’re my favorite!”

And when I see her walk across the stage at the eighth grade moving up ceremony in two weeks, I will think of that little four-yr-old who made her mommy happy by keeping that bow in her hair till after pictures.

My mother used to say that her goal as a mother was to raise compassionate, independent people who contribute to society. That’s my goal too.

So far, so good.

She’ll always be my baby. She’s my favorite.

***If you enjoy Kelly Mattei’s Favorite Things, please LIKE us on Facebook and invite friends to do the same!***