• I wish I had a photograph — or, better yet, a video clip — of Sam in the family van, heading out of our driveway this morning. I thought of running inside to get my  camera/phone. It just didn’t seem the right moment to impose my Smotheriness on Sam and his friend, both strapped in for their last trip from Boston to Ohio. So, I will conjure the image through words.

    A pale, winter sun had risen, revealing a clear sky. Far above the garage, a songbird perched on a bare branch. It wiggled and warbled. Nary a car passed on the street ahead. The mini-van — nominally “Silver Gray” — dented and dinged in its 13+ years of service — stood at the ready. Sam had commented as he’d lifted the hatchback that even it made a rasping sound these days. Sam turned the key in the ignition, causing his steed to cough to life, emitting more of a Lauren Bacall three-pack-a-day burr than an emphysemal wheeze.

    And then…they sat, these two young men, going nowhere. I stood in the drive, warm enough in my long underwear, Polar Fleece pants, ratty wool sweater, and down vest. I scanned the bare branches, the song bird, the plume of exhaust puffing out the back of the van. Then, like steam from a sauna, wafted a beat to put a shimmy into the Old Grey Mare’s hum.  Sam’s single upgrade when he inherited the O.G.M.: a first-rate sound system, which neither Mark nor I can figure out how to silence when we are infrequently behind its wheel. A minute more, and the guys were off.

    As the van’s wheels began to roll, I began to wave. “Winkie, Winkie!” I said to no one. My wave continued until the boys had turned from the driveway into the street. And I could see, through the O.G.M.’s tinted windows, the span of Sam’s long, drummer’s arm waving back.

    A family tradition, this Winkie, Winkie business. My in-laws would stand in their driveway, side by side, waving to Mark and me — and then, later, Mark, the kids, and me — until we were out of sight. “Winkie, Winkie!” they’d shout. A German tradition, Mark explained early on, coming through his father, embraced by his mom. A kitschy farewell. A magical gesture to ensure safe travel, safe return. Sometimes, after my mother-in-law would gaily shout and even giggle, she’d lower one hand to brush away tears.

    No tears for me this morning, though it is not always so.  The beat coming from the van’s speakers reminded me to smile way down deep.  What will Sam remember from his last semester of college? A particularly good lecture? A well-written essay? Late-night carousing with friends and flame? Balancing the heft of a dining hall tray loaded with limitless sweet cereal and milk? Long after graduation, he’ll savor vivid memories of these drives between Boston and Ohio, fueled by Red Bull and tunes. The journey not the destination, the wise ones say. Expectations and a twinge of anxiety on the trip out. Exhaustion and a twinge of anxiety on the leg home at semester’s end.  And surely Winkie, Winkie, a sacred rite passed from generation to generation.

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  • A long-time, much loved friend posted a question months ago, which I paraphrase: what do you think about parents who have the resources not to work outside the home and who know, from the get-go, that they will seek full-time employment because they want it?

    My answer today is prompted by a piece I read on Politico.com this morning.  Writer Michelle Cottle criticizes Michelle Obama for  “Leaning Out.” Cottle complains that Obama has wasted her Ivy League education and career as a high-powered lawyer and that when, this week, Obama weighed in on an education system that leaves behind impoverished kids of color — especially impoverished girls — it was too little, too late.  Cottle also criticizes the First Lady for choosing a public role that has emphasized traditionally “feminine” issues such as healthy eating and exercise.  I am sympathetic to the complaint that Obama might have focused on less traditionally feminine topics, but I draw the line at the following: “Turns out,” Cottle writes, “she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.”

    With privilege comes personal choice.  People with relatively large amounts of money and power, whether they are men or women, have options that at this point aren’t open to everyone.  They get to choose the work/life balance they wish, and they are often — but not always — able to move into increasingly interesting public work as their children mature.  This ability to lean in and out, in and out, over the course of a long life is precisely, as The New York Times reported, what many women want.  Which way they lean?  Doesn’t have much to do with whether they are “good” parents.

    Michelle Obama, the most privileged woman in America, has had a choice.  As a feminist, I respect her choice to give her daughters the foundation and protection they need growing up in the Klieg-light-glare of the presidency.  I’d have respected her had she chosen to allocate her time and attention differently — to “work outside the home” or to take on something other than vegetables and exercise from her spot in the East Wing.  But I would not have respected her had she ignored the implications for her daughters of her family’s choice to inhabit the White House for eight years and work in politics at the highest level.

    Here’s the thing about having kids: most of them don’t raise themselves.  Some children are relatively easy and uncomplicated.  Others need extra medical and emotional support.  All need attention.

    The relatively wealthy are able to pay others to attend if they don’t choose to have the time to do it, themselves.  They can enroll kids in good day care, pay private school tuition or buy homes in districts where schools have longer hours.  They are also able to make their mortgage or rent payments if one parent chooses not to work or to work part-time.  That the choice should appear to rest solely on the shoulders of women is wrong.  That the choice isn’t available to all parents, all women, is just plain unfair.  Rather than criticizing Michelle Obama — or any other mother, for that matter — for her personal choices regarding work, get out your bullhorn to increase access to the options currently only available to those of relative privilege so that all parents are able to give their children the attention they need.

    This past June, I finished my work days by stopping at a pond for a swim at around 6:00.  One evening, I noticed two different moms with their kids.  Mom # 1 sat on the dock.  She caught the rays off the water and periodically yelled at her children.  Mom # 2 was in the water.  She was talking with her kids, encouraging their diving and swimming, laughing with them.  I have no idea what these moms were doing all day — whether they were at work, whether they had nannies, whether they were on vacation.  The one I respected and admired from afar leaned in.  In her spare time, she leaned in to her children.

    And so, dear friend who I have known since our children were two, you have chosen to work full-time outside the home from the beginning.  You have had an excellent mate.  You’ve had the support of a warm, on-the-scene grandparent.  You had access to excellent day care and child care.  Your child was relatively easy to raise.  And: in the almost 20 years I have known you, there has never been a time when you have not taken every opportunity to lean in and get “in the water” with your kid.  I say: hats off to you!


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  • Today, I did the second stupidest thing I’ve done in my entire life.  I’m 51.  That’s a lot of time to do stupid things.  I am not going to tell you about the first stupidest thing.

    I decided to run a few errands before sitting down to work at my desk this morning.  I needed to get a move on it in part because I wanted to mail my sister-in-law the cake I made her yesterday.  She had surgery last week.  She’s going to be fine.

    I don’t live out here in Wellfleet year-round.  I’m lucky to be here for a few weeks at a time, and this year, I’m on the Cape for most of June.  Unlike in Boston, where I mostly live, here in Wellfleet if I don’t get to my post office by noon, I miss express pickup for the day. My plan was to mail the cake and then zip out Route Six to the Transfer Station to drop off my garbage.

    The Transfer Station is the fancy name for the dump. The Town of Wellfleet doesn’t provide garbage pickup.  Some people pay for a private service to haul their garbage away, but most people just pay for a permit so they can make a trip or two a week to get rid of their stuff.  I eat a lot of seafood when I’m here, plus I’ve got a dog, so my trash gets smelly fast.  More, perhaps, than you wanted to know.

    It’s a world class dump, so I don’t mind going.  There are recycling receptacles for cardboard, glass, plastics, rigid plastics, and newspapers.  There’s an area where you can drop trees to get turned into mulch – and you can buy the mulch, cheap.  There’s a drum for used oil, tables for hazardous materials, spots to put old fridges, freezers, TVs, mattresses, and computer monitors.  You have to pay to leave some of that stuff, but, really, it’s a terrific place because it gives everyone a chance to use and re-use thoughtfully.  There’s even a Swap Shop, where people leave and pick up things like old fans, kitchen utensils, lawn furniture, you name it.

    So, I mailed my cake, I got to the Transfer Station at about 11:30, and I put my plastics and bottles and newspapers in their rightful spots. I hopped behind the wheel of my car and backed towards the actual dump, a long, rectangular abyss where non-reusable, non-recyclables go.  When things are hopping at the dump, a dozen or more vehicles could probably park side-by-side – that’s how long the trash trough is.  I popped the trunk, ran around to get my bag, and heaved it in the air. And just as I saw the bag moving up and away from me in an arc, I realized that I had been holding my car key in my hand.  Past tense.

    No matter how much you want to, you cannot stop time.  You can stand in horror and watch the consequences of an action unfold, but you cannot undo what you have set in motion.  And so I stood there by the edge of the dump, my hands clutching the yellow metal fencing, and saw my garbage bag and my car key disappear.  I did not cry.  I did not shout.  I just stood there, mind racing.

    You won’t be surprised that the folks running such a world class dump did what they could to help me.  “It’s Wednesday,” the woman who sits in the entrance booth to the dump told me.  “Wednesday is anything can happen day.”  She called a guy who fetched an extension ladder.  The two of them called the bosses, who arrived speedily in their forest green Town trucks.  A very nice man named Kevin climbed down the ladder and searched for my key in the vicinity of where I thought it might have landed.  He could not have been nicer, but he didn’t find my key.  Along with another Transfer Station Honcho, he pushed my car out of the way while I steered.

    I was out of options.  I couldn’t say the key was lost, because I knew where it was.  But I couldn’t get the key, and I didn’t have a spare.  The service guy at the dealership in Yarmouth told me he could order me a new key for $100, but it wouldn’t arrive until Friday, and even then, he couldn’t squeeze me in until next Tuesday.  My car windows were open, as was the sunroof.  It was threatening to rain.  Again.

    You know in a preindustrial society, farmers had lots of children so they’d have extra hands to help in the fields?  I have three children.  Though I have wished all were fully employed this summer, I got very lucky that one was home mid-day playing video games with his friend Nigel.  My son Sam understood I was truly stranded.  He did not make fun of me.  He began driving the spare key from Boston to me in Wellfleet.

    What to do for the two hours it would take Sam to reach me? I listened to other people talking:

    “What’s goin’ on?” one man said. “Nothin’,” another replied.  “Same, here,” the first guy said.


    “Need a hand?” a guy asked another guy unloading nine milk crates filled with wine and liquor bottles.  “Nah,” said the other guy, climbing around in the back of his blue pickup.  He gestured towards his crates. “That’s what they call a standard load.  It’s a shitload.”

    The sky darkened.  I worried it would rain, and the car interior would get soaked.  And then, at 3 PM, I saw Sam at the wheel of the van, pulling in at the entrance booth.  I could just imagine the conversation.  “Where is my very stupid mother, the one who threw her key in the dump?” Sam would say.  “Oh, that lady?  She’s just been sitting over there in her car for two hours, trying not to throw away anything else important.”  Yes, that would be me.

    Sam unfolded himself from the van, all 6′ 2″ of him.  He delivered the key, stretched, then let me take him out for a vanilla soft serve cone.  I heard a bit about his internship at the radio station – the one he has to be to by 4:45 AM two days a week — maybe more than he’s told me all summer.  And then he went on his way.  He needed to get back to watch the Bruins.

    It’s only the middle of June.  I know it’s going to get hot at some point.  The greenheads will hatch.  We might even have a hurricane or two.  And I will probably do more stupid things, but I hope none as stupid as the one I did today.  Time will pass in enormous and miniscule increments, and I will not be able to do one single thing about it.




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  • Sam got home from school last Thursday.  I picked him up from South Station.  Max arrived this past Saturday evening on a bus from New York.  Mark and I were at a party for our favorite nonagenarian, so we couldn’t get him. A friend of his ferried him to the house.  And on Monday, after she’d finished her exams, handed in her last essay, and tidied her room, Lily got an extra special lift home from Max and Sam, who had driven out to Western Mass to bring her home from college.  The three of them took a detour on their way back to collect a gorgeous ceramic bowl they’d ordered.

    Each is growing — up and out and away.  At the same time, they are choosing to continue to be a part of each others’ lives.  Perhaps it’s true that we middle class mothers at the beginning of the new millennium have fetishized child rearing to the point that we’ve created an even bigger chasm between rich and poor.  At the moment, I’m glad I’ve been able to give these three a sense that making family takes conscious effort.  Because now, in this first stretch of time away from home, they understand that it takes effort to continue their relationships with one another and with Mark and me.

    And guess what? They gave me that beautiful bowl for Chanukah. I am filling it with new memories, the fruits of my labor.

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  • I dropped Max at South Station about an hour ago. He left New York at 10 PM Friday night to hop a bus for Boston, hoping to escape what at the time seemed to be a cataclysmic hurricane. By this morning, we knew that Irene was an erratic mess-maker, causing wind and water damage in spots, leaving other places unscathed. Time for Max to get back to New York and his new life as a City Year corps member.

    On our drive to South Station, Max and I saw Boston washed clean. The rising sun shone blindingly, brilliantly.  Cool crisp winds shooed away the blanket of heavy, wet air that’d been stalled over the Atlantic coast.  I watched as Max lugged to the terminal a backpack and bags filled with freshly laundered clothing and giant speakers.  Should he have made such a fuss to get back to Boston, after all?

    A radio announcer voiced a piece in which New Yorkers posed similar questions. They criticized New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg for what this morning seems like over-the-top evacuation plans. As I sped along the Mass Pike, the city before me, I wished we could all be a bit more grateful. Thank goodness it wasn’t worse. Halleluyah that an ordinarily pro-business public figure was willing to take an “anti-business” stance in favor of keeping people safe. How lucky we are that the worst most of us can complain of is a wet basement or a loss of power. I’ll bet the folks down in New Orleans, where today they’re marking the sixth anniversary of that storm’s landfall, would love to have so little to report.

  • Two Ends

    Two of the kids – Lily and Max – finished high school in early June.  I know, I know.  They call it “commencement.”  It’s supposed to be a beginning, the start of what’s coming next.  I like the idea of “graduation.”  You move (up?) from one step to another.  But, really, it felt so much like an ending.  The end of waving kids off in the morning from the breakfast table, the end of dropping kids at the train station and picking them up again in the afternoon, the end of having supper ready for everybody and hearing holy hell when everybody is sick of chicken, the end of having gangs of boys hanging out in the basement in front of the TV.  It was hard to think about beginnings, especially because nothing had begun yet.  It will.  I know it.  But it hadn’t then and hasn’t yet.

    We celebrated a lot of these ends, and it was joyful.  I threw parties.  Grandparents traveled to Boston from distant locales.  There were presents.  Everybody dressed up and looked spiffy.  Mark, the kids, and I traversed Alaska’s Inside Passage, from Juneau to Ketchikan, as a way to note these endings.  The five of us had – let it be publicly acknowledged – a lot of fun. Together.  As a family.  A dream come true.

    For Sam, of course, things haven’t exactly ended, because he is spending another year boarding and will have his commencement/graduation/end next June.  It’ll be different, in part because he’ll already have made the leap to “away.”  And it’ll be different because he won’t be graduating near home, so I can’t make all my neighbors gather and fuss.  But with luck we’ll all be together again – grandparents included – and it’ll be a big huge deal.  That’s the way it seems to be turning out in this family.  Reaching goals, coming to a place of achievement, marking rites of passage: we notice, and we eat cake.

    A Middle

    So, now, it’s high summer – August – and I feel like a yo-yo.  I keep pinging around.  I helped Lily get set up on the Cape so she could work her usual summer job at the fruit’n’veg stand.  I helped Sam get started at Berklee, where he’s been percussing away. I’ve helped Max and four others find an apartment in New York, where they’ll be volunteering with City Year for 11 months in public schools. Max hasn’t started yet, but he’s fully engaged in planning and will soon head with Mark in a U-Haul filled with furniture donated from generous friends.

    And I’m in the middle of too many projects.  I’m working on the syllabus for the course I’ll be teaching in the fall.  I’ve done another round of research for a long piece, but I haven’t written it yet.  I’ve emptied my office of books, but I still have a dozen, deep file cabinet drawers to sort through and vast stacks of papers to sort.  Good news: underneath the horrible, mouldy carpet lies a hard wood floor.  Such potential.  Kind of a metaphor for everything else.  Who knows what’s underneath?  Maybe something that with a bit of polish will shine?

    I feel stuck in the middle, meanwhile. After all the fanfare, not much has changed.  I’m still buying groceries and emptying the dishwasher.  The kids are keenly aware that new sorts of independence are just around the corner, but they haven’t quite reached the corner yet.  A bit of push-me-pull-you has ensued.  Normal, I know, in the Separation Derby, but not always comfortable.

    A Beginning

    You give everything you’ve got to these growing, shifting children, and if you are actually able to give what they need – not necessarily what they want or you expect – you get … to be left alone.  This somehow seems a bad bargain at the moment, although older friends tell me it’s actually great.  Right now, I think, “Who’d be crazy enough to sign on?  Three times?”  But that’s what the Bowl o’ Cherries is all about.  You’ve got to savor the delicious fruit of raising a family, recognizing that you’re going to be left with a messy napkin filled with pits.  The tasty fruit is gone.  The seeds are to scatter.  They’re going to mature into the loveliest trees. Probably in someone else’s yard.  You’ve been so busy getting to this point that other parts of the garden have lain fallow or even gone to seed. What to do?  Begin again.

    Mired in the middle after so many endings, I am engaging in a tiny beginning. I’ve had my first two cello lessons and can now play both the “Dreidel” song and “Jingle Bells.”  Pizzicato only.  I told this to a neighbor’s son, a young man I have loved since he and my kids were all 5.  He’s a wonderful musician with a wry sense of humor.  Next, he assured me: Bach’s cello suites – preferably Number Two.  I told him to check back with me in 2014.

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  • Lily and I strolled along the shore this afternoon for our first beach walk of the spring. We saw a dark figure from a distance. What was it? The undulations made it clear that we weren’t looking at anything with legs.

    Had to be a seal. Was it a baby? Or just small? Neither of us could tell, but we felt protective, all the same. We weren’t carrying cell phones, so we couldn’t call for help. As we moved closer, our shoes ran over the edge of a message some previous walker had left in the sand. “ANIMAL STRANDING KNOWS.” We weren’t the first to have come across the seal. No point, then, in trying to send an alert. I wrote my own message in the sand: “SEAL VERY TIRED 3 PM TH.” Who would read this? Certainly not the seal.

    We watched the seal labor its way to the dune.  It left an odd trail, pushing off with flippers, propelling its sleek, round body in short slithers.  Eyes open, blondish whiskers on end, it drew deep breaths from its muzzle into its chest, then drooped its head onto the sand. Were we anthropomorphizing to imagine the seal felt defeated?

    Last summer, we routinely swam at high tide with seals in the Atlantic. We walked on the beach at low tide and waved to them. Our dog Amos barked and barked, begging them to come ashore to play. And then he braved the surf, paddling out to meet them. They didn’t appreciate his pathological friendliness, diving beneath the waves as soon as he got near. All of us, human and canine, wanted to bond with these pup-like creatures.  We stopped trying when the Coast Guard issued alerts about Great White sightings. The sharks were apparently as interested in these uncharacteristically large groups of seals as were we.

    What was the kindest thing Lily and I could do? Lily walked behind the seal, thinking the seal might move away from her down towards the water. The seal made a few short moves, then took a deep breath and stopped. Our distress increased. The tide was going out. If the seal didn’t get itself into the ocean, it’d be another six hours before the tide rose enough to buoy it back into the sea. By then, we figured, the little seal would be dead. We spoke to the seal as if we were speaking to Amos. Which is sort of how we’d speak to a toddler. The seal lifted its head and opened its eyes. It took another deep breath and looked — we thought — as confused as we felt. Then it moved towards the high water mark in the sand.  We cheered it on as it approached the water’s edge. And then it stopped.

    I bent down low.  My hands scooped wet sand, which I threw at the seal. Lily was appalled. But the seal scooched towards the water.  So I scooped more sand and lunked it seal-ward. “Wah!” the seal said. Lily and I froze. “Wah!” we said back. The seal took yet another deep breath and stopped moving. The water was so close! A few more slide-hops, and that little round pinniped would be in place so the waves would grab it. Lily and I reverted to the only seal language we could muster.  We pulled in our elbows and clapped our hands together, making barking noises that sounded like…humans trying to sound like cartoon seals. I threw a little more sand. The seal began to wriggle parallel to the water, then once again faced the dune.

    “No more sand throwing!” Lily shouted. I argued that we should do everything we could to get the seal back in the ocean. Lily argued that if the seal wanted to get into the water, it would already have done so. After another fifteen minutes mostly of watching, we walked back to the car. We periodically swiveled our heads to check — the seal still wasn’t near the water.

    Was it sick? Was it too tired to swim? Do seals get too tired to swim? Was it a very small, very old seal whose time had come?

    My run-in with the little seal reminded me of the stunned birds I’ve tried to nurse back to health, the stray animals I’ve tried and failed to revive. Unlike others who might nurse the stunned and stray out of altruism, I’ve always been hoping that if they get better, they’ll tell me what happened. No matter who or what I meet, I always want to have a conversation.  I want to hear the story, to understand.  And this exasperates my husband and children. Sam to me, a few years ago: “Can’t you just go through the check-out line without…asking???”  The answer then, now, and probably forever?  Um, no. Today, I longed for a translator fish to pop in my ear, a la Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide, to communicate with everyone and everything — strangers, teenagers and, especially, seals.

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  • Lily came out of her interview at a small, elite New England liberal arts college sure that she’d had a good conversation but frustrated by the content. She knew she was supposed to “take charge” of the interview, so she asked a question about how well the college accommodated students with learning differences. She wanted to know, specifically, how she would go about fulfilling a language requirement given she’s dyslexic. The interviewer reassured her that the academic dean was always willing to go to bat for students with documented disabilities. Some professors wouldn’t “get it,” the interviewer said, but college policy would always back up LD students. With accommodations, Lily would be able to fulfill her requirements, just like everyone else. “Besides,” the interviewer told Lily, “it’s no one’s business.”

    I shook my head as Lily gave me the report. The phrase “no one’s business” evoked the kinds of things people who considered themselves enlightened would say about “different lifestyles” when I was growing up. Upon learning that so-and-so was lesbian or gay, a free-thinker in the ’70s might say, “I don’t have a problem with that. It’s no one’s business, whatever two people choose to do behind closed doors.”

    How far we’ve come as a country in terms of sexuality. Our goal isn’t to tolerate but to embrace. Full equality means that workers put same-sex partners on health insurance policies, high school students take whomever they wish to the prom, and little kids grow up celebrating family as two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, a mom and a dad, or any combination thereof. Ads, TV shows, films, music — all forms of popular culture normalize the range of sexuality at long last.

    In the best of all possible worlds, every college admissions interviewer would openly ask students about their learning styles. Kids wouldn’t just submit standardized tests. They’d submit learning profiles. The goal wouldn’t be to see if institutions of higher learning adhered to the law.  It would be to make sure that every professor, lecturer, and teaching assistant had undergone rigorous training in multi-modal learning.  Every syllabus would offer a variety of assessment techniques.  All students would be choosing courses based on what would maximize their chances to master material and produce good work.

    Hip schools have come to promote LGBTQ safe spaces, pasting rainbow-colored stickers on classrooms, offices, and meeting areas, making it everybody’s business to protect against discrimination and danger. I’d like to see LD communities developing a similar icon, something that would immediately signify that kids with learning differences are welcome and safe.  The ADA may have reached its 20th anniversary, but we still have a long way to go when college admissions officers think they’re being sensitive when they tell students “it’s no one’s business” if they’re LD.

    I felt terrible telling Lily to steer future interview conversations away from dyslexia and accommodations.  What did she want the admissions folks to know about her?  That she is a tremendous student? That she is a budding documentary filmmaker?  That she has tons of experience working with young children and is interested in human development?  That she loves to spend time outdoors?  Only after an institution has admitted her should she bring up dyslexia, because, as the admissions officer explained all too clearly, we’re living in an academic world of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

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  • I slowed my pace Saturday afternoon. I fell back to savor the view. Six long, suntanned legs in step, striding along a wide, dirt path. I wasn’t straining to hear the conversation, but I couldn’t help hearing the laughter. I just wanted to look.

    In my arms: Sam’s black trousers, rumpled white button down shirt, black belt, black tie, black socks, and dust-covered black shoes. It’d taken him a few trips into his cabin at camp to find everything he’d need to wear for the concert that night. I cradled the outfit, remembering trips to Macy’s and Target to secure each item, several of which have been pressed into service for years.

    A summer of firsts. This isn’t Sam’s first time at music camp.  It’s actually his fifth. But it’s the first time his sibs have been able to visit. Instead of going away on their own adventures, they’ve spent the summer close to home. Lily’s been working in a produce market. Max has been punching in at Economy Hardware and training for soccer. They’ve both been getting ready to apply to colleges (emphasis on the getting). Sam will take an extra year before he’s at this stage. He’s going to boarding school in September for another go at junior year before rushing headlong into college madness. While he finishes off music camp this week, Lily, Max, and I will visit colleges.

    Sam will leave home first. It’s a year earlier than I’d anticipated. I thought I was done with my grieving, having had my fill of middle-of-the night waking this past spring. I was wrong. It’s all right at the surface again, and I am mourning the loss of time with gifted, goofy Sam. But I’m not the only one grieving.  Lily and Max are having to figure out the letting-go themselves. “It’s like missing a piece of a puzzle,” Lily tells me.  “When we’re together, it’s like, ‘Ahh. Yeah.  There’s that missing piece.'” As with everything else in our family, things are complicated.  The celebrations.  The milestones. The losses. There are inevitable feelings of comparison and competition that are known to all families with children, but these are magnified exponentially with multiples. Who talked first?  Walked? Rode a bike? Started dating? And now: the first to leave home?

    The competition evaporated — at least for a little while Saturday — as the three fell in together.  I wanted to stand right next to Sam and hear the full report. But instead, I hung back. I marveled at the three sets of long legs with the same intensity that I counted toes after their birth. I thought about the almost 18 years of work Mark and I have done to create a family where these three can delight in such close connection and also claim what each needs and knows.  I loved.

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  • Tomorrow, May 1, is D-Day for high school seniors.  All those who have been put through brutal application and acceptance processes, these kids who have a new appreciation for the concept of a “wait list,” will have to make up their minds.  By tomorrow, they’ve got to fill out paperwork and mail deposits into the colleges of their choice.  This is it.

    I’m hearing from family and friends how hard it is to balance feelings of pride and delight against the sadness of upcoming loss as their kids make these sometimes tough decisions. I spoke on the phone last night with my sister-in-law who lives in Virginia. Her daughter — my niece — has decided to start school next September in California.  A beloved friend in San Diego is coming to terms with her son’s decision to head to Boston. The silver lining is that we’ll have more opportunities to visit, but that doesn’t ease her heartache at having her son leave home in such a definitive way. And I am struggling with the implications of one of my kids’ decision to attend boarding school in New Hampshire in the fall.  Distance.  Life as we know it is about the change dramatically.

    My sister-in-law, my friend, I — we are all members of the tail end of the Baby Boom.  We have all made choices to curtail professional ambitions so that we’ve been able to have more time with our growing children. Sociologists and gender analysts in a few decades will surely have a field day when they pick apart our lives.  I shudder to think what they will conclude.  Here on the ground, in the moment, what I see is a desire for deep connection with family.  A friend has told me since her kids were born that her greatest accomplishment will be if her kids want to come home for Thanksgiving when they are grown.  I think she speaks for an entire generation.

    I don’t know if our desire for proximity and reciprocity among our growing children is good or bad.  Don’t know if it’s mostly about us or our kids.  Do we want something for them that we didn’t have? Is this deep-seated desire yet another manifestation of the narcissism of our generation?

    NBC has tapped into these complicated feelings with its new drama Parenthood. The show airs Tuesdays at 10 PM Eastern Time.  It chronicles the ins and outs of the Braverman clan — two aging Early Boomer parents, their four mid-life Late Boomer kids, and their six growing grandchildren.  Each episode is studded with scenes in which adult children gather to celebrate even the smallest extended family happenings. The camera lovingly films the extended clan gathered at a local park to cheer on one of the kid’s baseball games.  It shows the entire family in a public pool as the youngest member successfully swims for the first time.   The Bravermans all grapple with demons.  None is perfect.  But none suffers alone. They share their imperfections, seeking each others’ advice in person and on the phone.  They take comfort in their ability to drop by each others’ homes and offices. Their lives are tightly braided together, and the show’s writers demonstrate again and again that this mostly brings the characters deep satisfaction.

    I have come to think of Parenthood as family porn.  We Late Boomers who feed our children slow food at family suppers want more time with the people we have raised to adulthood.  And just as they are heading off to have their own adventures like so many tufts on a dandelion, we crave stories about families who choose to live in proximity.  The cameras filming Parenthood linger over the faces of siblings who choose to babysit each others’ children and attend their birthday parties.  We grew up watching Dynasty and Dallas, night time soap operas about the evil machinations of family members hell-bent on destroying each others’ lives.  Now we are hungry for shows that allow us to fantasize about the essential goodness of kin and connection. If we can’t have our own family suppers, at least we can watch the Bravermans enjoying theirs.

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