but I need to tell y’all I love you.

The younger of my two children will begin her senior year of high school in a few weeks. While this isn’t my first rodeo with the senior year experience, it’s the first time with a girl. I don’t know where on earth the expression ‘whole different ball of wax’ came from, but I’m certain this is a great example.

My son had no interest in senior pictures. I had no interest in dragging a sulky 18 year old to drop a bunch of coin I didn’t really have on pictures he didn’t really want. I’m all about paths of least resistance; so for his yearbook photo, he put on a clean shirt, sat on the front porch of our house, I snapped five shots, and we called it a day. We were told we’d regret this decision, and perhaps that day will come. As of today, though, it has not.

I love this picture even if I did take it myself.

The daughter, though, is all in for senior pictures. She found the photographer and made the appointment. And promptly informed me this would require fresh hair color, getting her eyebrows done, and two new outfits. Typing that previous sentence feels like a confession. Hair color and brows for a 17 year old? Wowza. I’m going to refer you back to that ‘path of least resistance’ thing, though. With picture day fast approaching, last Thursday was the day we found that could accommodate both our schedules for some shopping.

After figuring out the timing and the stores she wanted to visit, it seemed the most efficient means of checking this task off our list would be to meet at the Mall of America. I have lots of thoughts about what we in our family refer to as The Big Mall. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it; and I rarely go there. But, it seemed our best bet for one stop shopping.

My daughter drove there after an appointment and I hopped on the light rail from downtown after work. And, my friends, I had already had a week. I’ve been at my job for just over a year, and it has been a roller coaster. While I would never want to make light of anyone in an abusive personal relationship, I do feel I have some sense of what it might be like after having worked with the senior administrative assistant in my department. Most of the days are fine, really good in fact; but the bad days are bad on a visceral level and come with sadness, rage, and an overwhelming feeling of having no control. In case you were wondering what phase of the roller coaster I was on when I headed to the Mall of America, I had applied for two new jobs on Tuesday night and scheduled a phone interview for Friday. I was physically and emotionally spent, and honestly pretty damn ambivalent about the idea of shopping when I boarded that train. Determined to spend a fun couple of hours with my daughter, while simultaneously feeling fully defeated and steeped in dog poop.

I hadn’t taken public transit to the mall before and didn’t know what store the stop was near, so we agreed I’d text her when I arrived and let her know where I was. I ended up at Barnes & Noble on the east side, she had parked in the Arizona lot on the west side. We were not terribly close to one another, but she told me to stay put and that she’d come to me. Thus, I got to spend about 10 minutes perusing the latest paperbacks while waiting for her to come. I wasn’t mad at it. We eventually met up and headed to the first store on her list. The only thing I need you to take from this paragraph is that if everything I’m about to write had gone down 15 minutes earlier, my daughter and I have been in different locations in the mall and I would be curled up in the fetal position.

We pretty quickly grabbed a handful of dresses. She went into the fitting room to start trying on, I sat on a bench just outside her door. Being that we were in the dressing room area, there were lots of mirrors around. LOTS of mirrors. I perused the social medias and caught more glances of myself in all those damn mirrors than I really wanted to. My current job has provided me with lots of new skills to add to my C.V., as well as a bonus 25 pounds I didn’t have a year ago. I fretted some at my appearance, but was also too tired to really care.

As I was sitting in there doing all the middle aged white lady things, a whole gaggle of girls who appeared to be in the 13-15 year old range came rushing back. I was supremely annoyed. Did these girls think they could all be back there at once? Who did they think they were? Then, the young man who had helped us on the store floor came back and checked the door beside me and reported to another employee that the door was closed and locked. Well, I thought, that’s kinda weird. Then all the lights went out and it started to sink in that something wasn’t right (I’m not always the quickest, y’all). The store manager informed us that there had been gunshots and we were officially in lockdown.

Gulp.

I quickly told my daughter I was coming in and proceeded to open the door on her naked self. I guess there are lots of good reasons for being in the dark during an active shooter event at a mall. Who knew? I joined her in the room while she put her clothes on. She told me she was scared, which jarred me, because this is my kid who wants to be a pilot and has told us she WILL be going skydiving on her 18th birthday– she doesn’t really do fear. So to hear, “I’m scared” come out of her mouth? No. No thank you. This isn’t happening.

Once she got her clothes on, we sat for a while. I texted my husband and son:

Of course, I meant ‘99% sure everything is fine,’ but learned through this process I make a lot of typos when under lockdown. Again, who knew?

At one point I heard the store manager say something to the effect of: while nothing with this situation has changed, I would feel better if everyone moved further back, away from this window. I thought she was moving anyone who wasn’t already in the fitting area in there, but a couple of minutes later my daughter asked me where everyone had gone. I didn’t realize it had gone silent. Shit. We decided we should try to find our fellow hostages. We walked out into the store and could not see a single person. Shit shit shit. Where did everybody go? Y’all, finding ourselves alone in a store during an active shooter situation was some freakity freak ass shit (I was trying to keep the language toned down, I’m now giving up). It wasn’t long before we heard voices and found the door they were behind. I hesitated to open the door, knowing everyone was on edge and that opening door was bound to freak them out. But I also wasn’t going to stay out in the store alone with my daughter. I tapped lightly and opened the door and we joined the others. And then the lovely young man who had been helping us on the store floor asked the manager if that door could be locked– we’d clearly rattled him and I felt terrible.

In addition to texting my husband and son, I had sent a text in a group chat to friends who I was supposed to be meeting for dinner after shopping.

Yes, this group text is called Burner Phones & Condoms and no you don’t get to know who is in it.

I also live tweeted throughout the experience, including a selfie, and I think I’m not overstating to say I went viral. The selfie was horrible and a questionable decision and if you find yourself in a lockdown situation and repeat my behavior with just the right hashtag, you will be retweeted 3,905 times and if this seems like it’s bragging it’s not because never in a kajillion years would I have anticipated anything I tweeted being retweeted 3,905 times so the takeaway from this long ass sentence is: if you post a selfie in an active shooter situation, assume that shit (and it was some shit, y’all) will be seen by close to 4,000 of your closest friends. My social media highlights prior to this were being retweeted by Keri Miller of Minnesota Pubic Radio and having Brandi Carlile heart something I posted on Instagram.

It was all cringe-worthy enough that I will refrain from posting it here. But if you saw me on twitter, can you just remember that my job has been very stressful over the past year causing me to eat and drink lots of feelings and gain 25 pounds?????? Please? Also, prior to this I had zero knowledge that Rex Chapman was a social media influencer for a lot of causes near and dear to my heart. To be fully honest, I had to google him, and when I saw his pic, my immediate response was THAT DUDE WAS AN ANALYST FOR THE NCAA TOURNMENT. Should your eyes come across this, Rex: Rock Chalk Jayhawk Go KU.

We were ultimately locked down for a little over two hours. The fear was intense for the first 10-20 minutes, but it did become apparent fairly quickly that this was an isolated incident and not a mass shooting scenario. And, as referred to in one of my above texts, mall staff are very clearly thoroughly trained in dealing with these situations. Anyone who knows me knows I have a lot of thoughts about that– I’m not going there today. Shoppers were released store by store so as to avoid a repeat of the mass chaos that ensued when they lifted the lockdown after the NYE shooting that took place at the same mall eight months ago- yes, I typed that sentence and you read it correctly. The manager of the store we were in had been there for that one too. It’s all just too much. Too too much.

By the time we exited the mall, start time for my planned dinner had come and gone; and I’d already let them know I’d be debriefing with my daughter and we’d need to reschedule. We were hungry, and I told my daughter we’d go anywhere she wanted. At 7:00 we sat down to dinner at a local restaurant, I realized my hands were shaking. We ate, I enjoyed two glasses of wine, and we decompressed. I’ve experienced headaches off and on since, with Friday afternoon being thoroughly intolerable (did that phone interview anyway if you’re wondering). Today has been much better on the headache front and we did take two on shopping. Two dresses have been secured for senior photos. My daughter is out with friends at a country music concert, my husband is working as a game compliance monitor at the Twins game, my son is in New Brunswick, NJ doing who knows what. While I am nowhere near as brave as my 17 year old daughter, I’ve also never really been one to live in fear. And yet, American reality is that gun violence is a possibility at any time, in any place. In recent years, I’ve thought about it any time any of my people go anywhere. Now I will forever think about it a little more intently.

TRANSITION!!

In order for you to really be in my mind while reading this, I’m gonna need you to channel your inner Tevye and sing that to the tune of ‘TRADITION’ in your head.

A few things have happened since I last posted.

We took our son to college halfway across the country. I had many ideas about how this was going to go. None of said ideas were based in reality. There were a few weeks that were HARD for a whole host of reasons. Having survived one semester and one extended winter break (compliments of the Omicron variant), I currently feel this is an amazing phase of parenthood. The boy faced some struggles, dealt with them in ways that made my heart swell with gratitude; and seems to have found himself in a really great place. With the aforementioned extended winter break, there were some moments where I was really damn ready for him to get back to school. Then he left on my birthday and I had the big sad. Parenthood, y’all.

Our daughter has a sig-o. That would be a significant other. A boyfriend. Totally new parenting territory with a REALLY steep learning curve. We are muddling through.

We made a somewhat gut-wrenching decision to list our house of 17 years for sale. Five (I think??) years ago we essentially rebuilt the place from the ground up. It was our dream home. The thing is, though, that dreams change. Leaving the physical walls of our house was not hard. Leaving the neighbors we had raised our kids with, on the other hand, was brutal. Thankfully we are still fairly close and they still speak to us even though we changed zip codes. We frequently said during the process, “we are leaning in to empty nesting,” which is Holt speak for “we are downsizing before our nest is empty because we are old and tired.” We landed in a townhouse in a neighborhood we call Shady Acres because we are fairly certain we are the youngest people there. Not mad at it.

I switched jobs. I loved my seasonal tax job. Really loved it. It was the perfect reentry gig after 16 years of unemployment. The siren song of employer subsidized health insurance proved irresistible though, and I began looking for year round employment last spring. I landed as an administrative assistant at a nationwide accounting firm. The transition from an office of three people to corporate America and an office with some fairly intense personalities was tumultuous and I dang near belted out TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT on a handful of occasions. Truth be told, I had one foot out the door. Somewhere along the way, though, things improved and as of today, I’m fairly happy with how it’s going (possibly because I’m on vacation in Mexico!). That being said if you hear me say any of the following phrases, please punch me hard in my whole face.

People like us do things like this. (OK, boomer.)

We’re the people who change the world. (Just let me process tax returns, dude.)

We the curious. (Did somebody work hard to come up with that?)

Failure isn’t fatal. (Unless you’re skydiving?)

And, they call busy season OPPORTUNITY SEASON. Help me, friends. I can’t handle the schmaltz. Secret sauce, lean in (I know, I wrote it earlier. I hate me.), perspective changes everything, blah blah blahhhhhhh.

So, a fairly eventful eight months. To say I’m enjoying this current vacation could be a bit of an understatement. Tomorrow starts a string of four nights of live music by some of my faves, with some of my faves. Ahhhhhhh.

TRANSITION!

Pomp & Circumstance & A Lot of Gratitude

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My friends, it’s hard to even know where to begin. I’m not a fan of the ‘days are long but years are short’ philosophy of parenting. The years are long too. I barely remember having infants and preschoolers. Even middle school currently seems like a lifetime ago. And yet, when the band started playing and graduates started processing to their seats, it was damn near impossible to believe the moment had arrived.

Yes, the years have been long. The highs have been high, and the lows have often felt oh so low. Heartbreaks have been plentiful, but so have moments of pride and unspeakable joy. I don’t know how to express how grateful I am for the countless entities that got us to yesterday: extended family, teachers and administrators, school board members who have worked relentlessly on behalf of these kids, our faith community, neighbors, our incredible village of fellow parents, and who knows how many others I am forgetting.

For all who have been with us along any point of the journey, all I can really say is: THANK YOU. What a ride, can’t wait to see what’s next for these kids.

The day after: the suburbs edition

The Minneapolis metro weather has been a bit on the blah side this week. Skies have been gray, temps have been on the chilly side, and occasional snow flurries have reminded us it’s April in Minnesota. Winter’s waning, but she’s not gone yet.

I was watching local news yesterday afternoon when the verdicts were read in the Derek Chauvin trial. When asked by a reporter how he was feeling, one young black man replied that the air was feeling lighter and the sun was breaking through the clouds.

And, the sun indeed did break through the clouds for a bit yesterday evening.

It’s a new day, though. I don’t know what the weather forecast is predicting for today, and maybe it’s just a function of still being early in the day; but the clouds are seemingly back. It seems appropriate: guilty verdicts were read, the sun showed itself for a time; but there are still oh so many clouds.

Much to my chagrin, I cannot control the weather. Nor can a judge and jury. Thus, this moment of climatic symbolism was as fleeting as yesterday’s sunshine. I enjoyed the sun, but it’s time to get back to focusing on the things I can control and recognizing this moment of accountability was simply that. A moment.

The work continues. Stay focused, my friends.

Covid Confession

If I’d have been asked to grade my family’s pandemic era responsibility on March 28th, I’d have given us a solid 80%. Above average with plenty of room for improvement. If you’d have asked me to assess on March 29th, that number would’ve tanked to 10%. Maybe lower. Probably zero, TBH.

Here’s my COVID confession. On March 29th, our family boarded a plane, even though only one of us had been vaccinated. And even he wasn’t fully vaccinated. Despite everything (our better judgement, the advice of professionals, the wishes of our school district, and lord even knows what else) we flew to, of all places, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and spent a week at a beachfront hotel with four other families.

Typing those words, I feel certain I must be talking about some other family. We are not those people. Well, apparently we are those people. But not heeding the advice of experts? Flying when told we shouldn’t? Flying to Florida???!!! Group travel? None of those things are historically our jam.

What can I tell you about why we made this decision? Admittedly nothing that would make it ok.

We were all desperately in need of a change of scenery (who isn’t?). And it surely felt like everyone else was doing it (what better reason than that??!!). But our main reason was our high school senior son; who has had no homecoming, no Sadie’s dance, no sweethearts dance, no Friday night football games, no in person classes with anyone who’s last name doesn’t end in A-L. And, while the kid ain’t perfect, he has rolled with the punches and tempered his disappointments with the knowledge that there’s more to life than high school traditions and an empathetic conscience that the risks were simply not worth it.

But, he wanted one normal senior year thing. A trip with his buddies before they all graduate and go their separate ways. And we wanted it for him. And it clouded our judgement.

Two days after we returned home, he tested positive for COVID. He’s been banished to the second level of our house since and had a couple of days of feeling plenty good and lousy. He’s seemingly over the hump now, even saying he felt great today. The rest of us tested negative.

The good news: we had made the decision to not send our kids to school upon returning home.

The bad news: Jerod is in what I lovingly refer to as COVID jail until the 16th. The rest of us until the 20th. Lost wages, lost sanity, lost opportunities to be in the same room with our kid who will be moving away in four months, lost days of being able to book vaccinations.

To anyone I’ve talked to about this, I’ve said: we deserve this. The positive result, the house arrest, the inevitable stir-craziness. We deserve it all and so much more. We were on the home stretch and took our eyes off the prize.

When I posted this saga on a local moms group facebook page in hopes of encouraging anyone else who traveled to get tested, the response was generous. Thank you for saying this, thank you for heeding the request of the school district to keep kids home for two weeks after break, thank you for being honest. That was all lovely, but unnecessary.

How many hard things have we dealt with in the past 13 months? Who can even count. There are choices that are hard. Whether or not to cave and let your kid have spring break with his friends– for me that was a hard choice. Maybe it wouldn’t have been for you. If that’s the case, I applaud your fortitude. For me, it was a hard choice, with no good answer.

It’s important to note, though, that many things about this have absolutely not been hard. The decision to test upon returning home? Not hard. The decision to keep our kids home before we even had test results? Absolutely not hard. The decision for me to tell this truthful cautionary tale on a facebook page and encourage travelers to test? Not hard. Yes, I feel shame. I felt it when I booked the tickets, I felt it when I packed my suitcase, I feel it writing these words.

Here’s what I do not need from anyone: sympathetic or understanding words or praise for my honesty. That’s easy when you’re incapable of BS. Here’s what I do need: I don’t know. Vaccinations, I guess. For everyone. Readily available and required for everyone. We’re slated to leave COVID jail on the 20th and I desperately hope to have appointments waiting for us. When you can get yours, please do.