Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Summer of 42

Published July 27, 2006

Summer is the only time that JD and I are the same age. Three months of the year he catches up to me and this summer we are both 42 years young. The bliss of this lasts until October and then like a thief in the night, I get the extra year to carry for another nine months…the cruelty of it all. October I become the ol’ lady, again. Sigh. With this age, I get more maudlin. If I keep going at this rate, I’ll need electroshock therapy by the time I’m 50. I’m talking about the amount of time I spent this summer getting misty-eyed over all the kids I know who are leaving home for the first time.

Speaking of 42 years old, JD just recently celebrated his birthday with his twin brother, Jim, who happened to be in town for a surprise visit. I’ve known these two men since they were 22 years old…so I’ve watched them both grow up so to speak. JD’s twin, also known as J.D., (John and James Donovan), came into the world on July 9 with my hubby trying to come feet first. A breech birth under any circumstance is a tricky and dangerous thing. Luckily my MoMaher had an excellent physician in the late great Victor Lash, MD. He managed to steer Johnny in the right direction. Jimmy never needed direction, he came barreling into the world, bigger, louder and ready to get down to business from the very beginning, which makes him a “bigger than life” kind of guy. I love watching these two together even after these last two decades. They don’t look anything alike. There is a little mischief in both of them that I think is shared in some part of their DNA, but if you saw them both on the street, you wouldn’t know they were twins, let alone brothers. We had a little celebration here which ended with MoMaher crying her eyes out, because Jim was headed back to Washington State, where he lives, and who knows when we’ll see him again. These goodbyes are always hard, but especially hard on MoMaher. I know, because I’ve felt her pain all summer long.

As Jimmy and his wife celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary this month, we watched them send their young adult children off to travel the summer overseas and around the USA, and in a sense, it was a bittersweet thing to see the babies I used to hold, set off on their own. Both their kids are getting ready to move out and go to college within the next two years so they will truly experience the empty nest. Seems the summer of 42 for us is watching our friends send their kids off to new chapters in their lives. Seems God gives you two decades with your kids and then, Bam! You’re left staring at the four walls of their rooms, wondering what the heck just happened. I remember my Dad talking about how quiet it got around the house when we left. He said it was nice at first, but they never quite got over it. He gets over it, though, when all 8 grandkids are in the same room.

We won’t be too far behind our friends who are going through this time in life that every parent goes through. Gosh, why is time going so fast? Another friend of mine is sending her oldest to Iraq, another to San Diego State. These are great kids, the best in the world. Michael is Army Airborne, and Lauren is headed off to San Diego to major in math and chemistry. Seems like yesterday Lauren was 8 years old. Another one of my favorite kids is our friend’s son who is moving to Dallas to go to college. I went to his Baccalaureate Mass and wanted to cry. These darn kids grow up and leave us…How dare they! I pray that they all do well, especially our friends who are saying goodbye to their son, on his way to Tikrit, Iraq. I see this handsome, wonderful young man, anxious to serve his country and his sense of duty humbles me. I also pity my friends, their parents, who will miss them more than this columnist can hardly express in 800 words or less. These parents throw parties for their kids, but then again, behind closed doors, they cry because things are never going to be the same again. As much as we raise these kids, they raise us. Don’t think I don’t know where gray hair comes from.

God, watch over these kids and protect them, Michael, Justin, and Lauren, and bless my wonderful husband and his crazy wacky twin brother in the summer of their 42nd. Also, warm the heart of all the mothers and fathers who are saying goodbye this summer to their kids, and especially MoMaher who has said goodbye so many times to all her sons….and Lord, when it comes time for me to do the same…give me the courage and grace not to throw myself on the floor, like Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone with Wind”. Thanks Lord. Amen.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mt. Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@sbcglobal.net

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Play Freebird"

Published July 13, 2006

Standing at the half-way mark of summer school, I feel like I’ve been running a race on a treadmill. I’ve learned a few things about chemistry. But more importantly, I’m getting reacquainted with a girl I knew about 27 years ago.

I have a new appreciation for the youthfulness of my classmates and their ability to get things done. Whether it’s completing homework or writing detailed lab reports fifteen minutes before these are due, I see these kids multi-tasking their lives with their cell phones and I-Pods. I, on the other hand, spend hours after class pondering it all, backpack in tow, flashcards in pocket, desperately trying to establish a relationship with my scientific calculator. Eight weeks on a treadmill of doubt, I race to finish things that seem to take longer for me to understand. It must be my age. The excuses cause me to lay awake at night thinking about chemistry, the homework and the labs. After lecture and lab, I stay at school for the rest of the day working with the tutors and re-copying problems I can barely see with my 40+ year old eyes, and laughing at mistakes I make, like trying to balance an equation that is already balanced.

Whether it’s dreaming about the charges of ions or the properties of certain chemicals, I’m living another life. My kids haven’t had a meaningful conversation with me in 4 weeks. Case in point: The query, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” equals the reply “We’re having Barium Sulfate in aqueous solution…honey”. This apparently happened while I was knee deep in my Stoichiometry homework. I realize, with my eyeballs cross stitching, I need to take a break.

I decided that in between this madness of being a student once again, I had to leave my 50 pound backpack for 3 hours on a Friday and take my girls to go see the latest Pixar/Disney movie, “Cars”. Mom guilt or afternoon nap, I had to get rid of one and catch the other. The movie ended up being the hilarious escape I needed to get a little perspective about my state in life right now. I attribute it to a single line of script in the movie.

At one point during a particular scene where hundreds of ‘cars’ have gathered in a stadium to watch a NASCAR race, all the spectators being various autos of different makes, models and types (much like people), a hush comes over the crowded arena. In the tiniest corner of the stadium is uttered a shout from some old “hippie car” who yells out the phrase, “Play Freebird!” I couldn’t stop laughing. My kids told me to shush up but the snickering wouldn’t stop. “Mom, what’s so funny?”… There were a few of us “over 40’s” in the movie theater and we were the only ones who got the joke. Not a single kid in the place heard it, and the grandparents behind me missed it too. It was a message for me I’m sure of it.

To anyone over the age of 40, the song “Freebird”, performed by the 70’s rock and roll band Lynyrd Skynyrd, was basically the anthem of our youth. Lead vocalist Ronnie VanZant’s untimely death in a 1977 plane crash catapulted the group into legendary status, and they were recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last March. The caption under a recent picture of them states that it took them seven nominations to be inducted which is befitting for a band that is nothing if not a survivor. I can relate to given this is my second attempt at chemistry in two decades. Looking at their website last night, I saw that they’ve aged right along with me. The fact that they still tour – makes me wonder if I should start taking supplements.

Memories of this song caused a series of flashbacks to the year 1979, being with great friends from St. Vincent’s High School, listening to our favorite music, in cars we had just learned how to drive. No matter where we were, or what we were doing, when that song came on the radio, the earth would stop in order for us to pay our collective homage to the song with our voices and “air guitars.”

Sharing a moment with my 15 year old last weekend, I put in the CD while we were driving home, and like the kid I once was, I belted out the lyrics, completely off key, air guitar in hand, with the other one holding onto the steering wheel. Despite the protests of my horrified teenage daughter, who thought I had completely lost my mind, I came to a decision. I know I can do well in this summer school class. I can step off this treadmill of doubt. I will pass chemistry, even if I am the old lady in the class who tries to balance an already-balanced chemical equation.

That song represents a carefree time, with a carefree generation, who would shout out “Play Freebird” at any event, albeit, a NASCAR race, a Day on the Green, or a Church picnic. I came home from that movie, opened my books and realized that although it’s only been about 27 years since I shouted “Play Freebird” in an open room, I now see why my chemistry classmates get their homework done 15 minutes before class starts and why they can listen to their I-Pods and balance equations, all while chewing gum at the same time.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at familyfare@sbcglobal.net