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I know that really, every day is special. But today is especially special for me. Why? Because today is the day that my most special and precious daughter arrived on this earth (at least this time around – she’s a very old soul.)

Because some of her friends read the blog, I’m not going to inflict much gushiness and reminiscing on her. After all, she’s 15 today, and you know what that can be like. At least I do. I remember 15 quite well.

The idea that she’s 15 is amazing to me. How could that be? Like an excellent vacation, it feels like she’s been here forever, and yet the time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye.  I wish I had been (then and now) the one to spend more time with her. I missed a lot of her day-to-day growing up by working so much to support us all these years. But she had an excellent parent in her dad for those many years.  And I do feel that the time we have spent together has been “quality” time, more precious for its scarcity.

It snowed the day before she was born; it is snowing now. That day was a Sunday. Today is a Thursday. But at 4:06 pm on that day, my life changed forever for the better because this strong, smart, beautiful, funny, caring soul decided to grace it.

I can’t wait for many more years of roadtrips, inside jokes, kitchen disasters, epic fails, soul-level hugs in front of endless fields of sunflowers, famous chats, and getting to know one another better as we both continue to grow and change.

Happy birthday, Kelsea, my dearest daughter and friend.

Kelsea and Jack. Machyllneth, Wales. June 2007.

Day 3 started too early for Kelsea, but what are mothers for if not to wake their children in some annoying manner?

We partook of the too-expensive breakfast buffet at the Inn, and left loaded for bear (oh wait, that was Day 2). Well, we left, at any rate, excited because today was the day we got to see it: Mount Rushmore, aka, the Big Heads.  Goats were dining on tightrope walkways in the air at Old McDonald’s Farm (we didn’t stop). En route, we decided that if we ever own a Jersey cow, her name will have to be Snooki.

Kelsea was keeping track of the disturbing death marker signs with little tick marks (just FYI, in this one day, we counted 27) as we headed through the Black Hills, unsure of what to expect from Mount Rushmore. Some of our acquaintances had said “Oh, they’re smaller than you think.” Others had said it wasn’t worth it, especially not with the crowds. Well, our first peek at the peak was pretty cool regardless of those misguided expectations.

Parking was only a minor challenge, probably because I made it so by debating if the EXIT signs on the structures REALLY meant exit, or if that was just a suggestion. The level-headed one told me not to be an ass – they say exit because they mean exit (and remember the “Road Closed” signs?)  Much to our delight, many, many (many) Mustangs were still in evidence, making a long weekend out of the Sturgis Mustang Rally.  Each got a “hey-ay” shout out from us.

I never knew I had a childhood dream of seeing Mount Rushmore until I fulfilled it by actually seeing it. It’s fabulous and don’t let anybody tell you differently. The Big Heads ARE big, plenty big, the perfect size, in fact.

The monument is laid out well, clean, accommodating, everything a monument should be. Even the soda machine in the ladies room maintained the theme.

The background museum is worth a stop, and I now regret not having stayed for the video, because we both have some unanswered questions. The museum had details on the sculptor, the heads, the presidents, and the area, as well as some cool giant photos.

The Avenue of Flags was a fitting entryway to the full-on views of the monument.

At the end of the Avenue of Flags, you come upon an amphitheatre with a fantastic view of the heads. It’s the prime viewing spot, if you are unable to walk any farther. We walked to the bottom of the amphitheatre (no one else seemed to do that) but declined to get up on the stage.

The Presidential Trail winds through the forest, a wooden walkway to give you a closer look at the Big Heads.

There was one little viewing hole. We stood in line for it, not knowing what we were standing in line for and double checking to be sure that people ahead of us in line were actually coming out, and it was not some sort of bizarre Big Head feeding tube.  Standing in line for an unknown reason made us feel slightly stupid, but we did it anyway.

Being us, we had numerous absurd observations about the Big Heads:

Kelsea: “George looks like he has a little something right there.” (Pointing to the left of his nose)
Me: “It looks like Thomas is leaning in, trying to tell him about it.”  (Thomas looked like he was kind of creeping on George.)

We cracked ourselves up with remarks about how rock-hard and sculpted they were.

Kelsea didn’t know that Teddy was wearing pince-nez. Teddy looked a little mad. We decided he felt kind of squooshed and didn’t like it.

Abe was kind of off by himself – not so snuggled up. We speculated that he was being treated as some kind of outcast.

Everyone had some spidery cracks through their faces.

We kept trying to get photos in which trees were sticking up presidential nostrils, but failed, and settled on the classic, “Add YOUR big head to Mount Rushmore” shots.

The trail took us to the sculptor’s studio, in which we discovered that the original idea for the whole thing showed much more torso and hands.  In the current version, only Abe seems to have lapels.

The studio exhibit also reveals the existence of the secret cave. Not a secret if you tell everyone about it, eh?

If you were unaware, the sculptor who was behind Mount Rushmore was Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish polygamist immigrants.

Borglum most wisely thought that the Big Heads needed some explanation, and that said explanation needed to be WITH the Big Heads. So, he put a brief US history, and explanation of the Big Heads, carved on tablets, in a titanium box in a cave that is behind (or perhaps inside) Abe’s head. There were pictures of people doing the dedication.  But of course, the cave is off-limits to visitors and there is no marked or visible trail to it. Kelsea appropriately scoffed at my idea that they covered the trail with dirt.

The concept of the secret cave spurred much discussion between us, and seeing it is now on Kelsea’s list of life goals (which sounds a lot better than Bucket List when you’re 14).

Our dialogue ran along the lines of this:

Her: How do we know what he wrote on those tablets? What if he made up a whole bunch of stuff?
Me: We just have to trust him.
Her: What about now? Do they update what’s in there?
Me: I doubt it.
Her: Then won’t it seem like the world just ended when the history did?
Me: I’m sure there will be more records on earth than just that one.
Her: Who’s going to read it?
Me: I don’t know…aliens?
Her: How do we know they’ll be able to read English?
Me: They’re aliens. They’re smart enough to get here, they’ll be smart enough to figure it out.
Her: And why do we send up things like DVDs on space missions? Why do we possibly imagine that aliens have DVD players?
Me: Good, yet unanswerable question.
Her: What if aliens never find this place? Then the whole titanium box thing is pointless. So I should be able to see it.
Me: Well, maybe the survivors of the future destruction from the nuclear holocaust will find it.
Her: If there’s a nuclear holocaust, there won’t be any survivors.
Me: New survivors might evolve.
Her: They couldn’t. There’d be nothing left for them to evolve from.  And how would they know English?
Me: Look! A chipmunk.

Truly, our voices were slightly raised during this debate, and we got many strange looks.

All in all, it was a highly satisfying experience. On the way to our next destination, George presented us with a lovely profile.

Next stop: Crazy Horse, Boyd’s Antiques, and Custer State Park.

It’s the time of year we all look forward to – our annual Mother-Daughter Labor Day trip! This is our 5th Labor Day excursion. We always pick somewhere new to go. Since flying was looking a bit pricey this year, we picked a destination that was drivable, and a state to which neither of us had been: South Dakota. We refer to this trip as the Lobe, since last year’s 14-state driving extravaganza was called the EAR (or Excellent Adventure Roadtrip). This, since it’s only 3 days and 4 states, is the Lobe.

As is customary, it’s always an experience travelling with me. I wound up leaving an hour later than I had hoped from work, and on our way out of Denver, l looked out my window and saw a dead hawk under a bridge. I took it as a bad omen initially, but Kelsea told me some Greek mythological fact about hawks that cheered me up. (This was to be the first of our semi-significant animal experiences for the afternoon.)

As we got through the Burbs, we encountered an amazing full rainbow that went double and triple on us from time to time in between cloudbursts. Kelsea was the photographer for this blog, as I was driving, and strangely enough, she kept snatching the camera from my hands when I attempted to take a picture while driving 80 mph. Go figure!

Double Rainbow!!

We drove alongside the rainbow for around 20 minutes. I’ve never seen one last that long before. We did our own impression of “Double Rainbow Man” and considered it a good omen.

We exchanged snappy dialogue:

Me: So do you have any classes with such-and-so?

Her: None

Me: You have nun class together? Are you studying good habits?

Her: What? Uhhh… [groan]

Actually we talked constantly – it was a feast of reason and a flow of soul.

Colorado whipped past and we lamented the closing of the Sweetsville Zoo. How could it have closed? There was no guide and no admission. And they couldn’t have just gotten rid of all those giant sculptures. I mean, there was a tugboat in there, for Pete’s sake.

The tradition of the Corn Slap was reinstated as we passed by numerous cornfields in full tassle. This, if you are unaware of it, is like Slug Bug, except you get to slap the back of the person’s head if you are the first to see a cornfield. (It was a painful trip through Kansas last summer.)

Wyoming greeted us with its standing buffalo silhouette on the bluff, and a ton of fireworks stores. We realized that we hadn’t stopped on the EAR and taken each other’s picture at the Welcome To [Insert State Here] sign upon arrival in each state, but there would be no time like the present to do so, so we were planning on doing it this trip.

Of course, the first live animal we saw was camels. Yes, camels. Four of them. Apparently they are trying to fool the camels into thinking we’re in the desert, which we’re totally not, although your local horticultural school will tell you that this is high desert.

Still I had never seen camels in any semblance of the wild, so I was trying to turn my head around backwards, Linda-Blair style, to see them. Not what you do while driving 80 miles an hour. But then I think I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done while driving 80 mile an hour.

This incident did, however, help set the tone for some of our music selections during the drive. Not that we were listening to Bedouin karaoke, but since our tastes are somewhat divergent, we take turns with playing our respective iPods. She gets a couple of hours, and then I get a couple of hours. Kelsea is very considerate about what we play – she’ll check with me to be sure a song is something I enjoy, inform me if one is really inappropriate (ahem, then why do you have it on your iPod? Oh right, because you’re 14), and skip over the heavy metal ones for me. I do the same for her when my turn rolls around, since she loathes country music with a bloated passion. With a few song exceptions, and those are the ones I love, that I MUST listen to. So now, when those songs would come on, and she’d groan, my most appropriate (in my opinion) response was:

“Don’t complain. You saw camels.”

We also saw a herd of buffalo, which was new for her. And we saw buttes.

Butte

Isn’t it a beauty? (Get it? Get it?)

Being somewhat directionally challenged (even though to get to South Dakota from Denver, you basically head north and turn right), I had not only programmed Daniel, the Garmin, with driving directions, but had also printed out a set from Google maps. The problem was that these two set of directions were slightly divergent. Not greatly, but about 30 miles worth of divergent.

As we were zipping along, I had a choice to make as to which set of directions to follow. Well, the sun was, while not still high in the sky, at least still in the sky, so I opted for the slightly shorter route. As soon as we took the exit, I had a feeling I had chosen unwisely, as we went from a six lane interstate to a two lane road. But it was straight and fairly empty and nearly as fast as the highway and there were rock formations, and it felt like an adventure, so we were happy.

Drive, drive, drive. Pass the town of Chugwater, much touted in signage but leaving something to be desired in person, although it was in a geologic basin surrounded by flat top cliffs, with white sandstone rocks and tempting caves creeping up the sides. Kelsea was in mid-sentence when she stopped in awe and said how she could envision Indians in this particular spot, long before Chugwater chili came into existence.

Just past Chugwater, Daniel was a little unclear as to his directions, and so we turned around and took the Google directions, which Daniel wound up agreeing with. It was only about 5 miles to Hartville, where we would get on another road for a long stretch.

Hartville was a sketch in time and an oasis in the Wyoming landscape, built in a hollow with lush trees by a creek, with 76 residents, all of whom were just winding up a little BBQ in the tiny grassy park, and all of whom looked at us as we drove by.

Welcome to Hartville

I ignored the sign saying “No Outlet”, assuming it meant that at one point there was No Outlet, but surely not that there was NO Outlet. We curved up a hill, around a bend, past another No Outlet sign on a little fork road. Then we were met with a Road Closed sign, and Kelsea, wise woman that she is, said, “I think the road is closed.” Being me, I said, “Of course not.” We encountered yet another Road Closed sign, and she said, “I think so.” She’s always been a bit of a backseat driver, so I kept a steady course. The next sign said “Road Closed 1000 feet,” and my daughter said, “Mom, there have been five signs. What is it going to take for you to believe them?” I guess it took me running up against the closed road. Because I did. And then I believed them. But I did not believe Google maps anymore.

We backtracked, waving at the townsfolk, who looked at us if they wanted to BBQ us, and got back to the safety and comfort of our little two-lane highway.

Many relationships, over time, run their course, and so it was this trip. Daniel, the Garmin, and I were having problems. I had started to feel like he was mocking me in his snooty British accent when I didn’t listen to him. He would revert to “Please drive the highlighted route” which of course I can’t see when I’m driving because I wasn’t supposed to look at him when I’m driving – that just felt like he was being sullen and pouty. He would “lose satellite connection” when he was annoyed with me because I was lost. Or he would start saying the ever infuriating “Recalculating” when he was insistent that I make a U-Turn even though I was on a perfectly good road, just not the one HE chose for me. No flexibility. No compromise. I had had enough. It was time for us to break up.

Kelsea chose a new Garmin beau for me – Lee. Lee is Australian. His voice is soothing, not superiorly irritating. He makes me feel like he’s winking at me when I screw up, and he’s just along for a fun ride. So G’Day, Lee. He made me feel much better about being navigationally challenged. And it was remarkably easy to stop saying “Daniel” and start saying “Lee”.

Kelsea was in, as she put it, the best mood she’d been in for months, wanting to take pictures, enjoying the trip, the beauty of wooly Wyoming. There was a gorgeous sunset behind us, and the sky morphed into blackest night, peppered with stars, and a peach-colored sliver of a setting moon.

Wyoming Sunset

It was open range, so I was a little edgy driving 80-85, but there were no speed limit signs. We decided that the speed limit was “As fast as you can go without dying”. I will come back and post that sign myself.

Kelsea was hungry and there was nothing to be seen – and I mean nothing – as far as places to eat – or places to do anything – or just places – went. She considered killing and eating an antelope, and we then experienced that awkward moment that comes when you suggest eating your Mother’s shamanic power animal.

As we were driving along, taking a slight hill, something dashed across the road in front of the truck, causing me enough panic to swerve slightly. Too small to be an antelope, too big to be a rabbit, I thought it had horns, I thought it had fur, I thought it had wings, it was a tan the color of the earth. I had nearly hit a jackalope – or perhaps a chupacabra. Either might have made delicious roadkill.

Finally arriving at the crossroads that is Lusk, Wyoming, we got gas, semi-edible crap (I finally tried pork rinds, because I never had, and all I can say is DON’T and don’t ever let me do so again), and a tip to visit the Keystone Taffy-Pulling Shop outside of our destination, all at Tye’s One-Stop. Lusk was a nice little town, with a Friday night high school football game in progress. Kelsea wanted to stop to watch, but it was so late already that I had to veto the suggestion.

Lusk All A-Bustle

We still had 200 miles of darkness to go before reaching Rapid City.

Cellphone service was gone. We would pass through pockets of hills and trees, enchanting in the darkness, except for the occasional giant wildlife carcass that would startle and disturb the straight line of the road. There was some commotion in our truck when a car ahead of us was pulled off the side of the road, lights bright. I thought it was an officer who might disagree with me on the unposted speed limit. We discovered it was someone who shared our brilliant idea of having their picture taken by every “Welcome to [insert state here]” sign.

We drove into the direction of the most amazing lightning storm. No thunder, but lightning illuminated the cumulus clouds and the entire horizon in an eerie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” sort of way, which, given Kelsea’s recent UFO sighting, gave me pause. It would flash out from under the clouds, like a shutter opening and closing on a bright lantern, the light spilling out flat through the darkness.

Kelsea fell asleep (what greater sense of comfort and security than to fall asleep in a car while your parent is driving, even if the parent driving is me?), and I played country music to my heart’s content while wending into Rapid City. It was close on midnight, and I was trusting that the Holiday Inn hadn’t given away my reservation. Kelsea had programmed the address into Lee earlier, so I was relieved when he directed me specifically to our destination. However, our destination wound up being a vacant lot off the main drag and behind a warehouse, with a deviant looking character sitting in the dark grass beside it. Had my daughter programmed my destination to be a clandestine drug deal two states distant? I didn’t stick around to find out. But I did wake her up to show her that she too is somewhat navigationally impaired.

We waved to the drug dealer and retraced our GPS steps to find the charming Holiday Inn Mount Rushmore. The front desk woman was as welcoming as a corn husk, but after careful observation, I saw a little flyer that she’d been looking at with the cover “In loving memory of Steven” on the desk. And a plaque on the wall that identified said Steven as the owner of the Holiday Inn. So I silently forgave her her prickliness and her way-too-intense false eyelashes.

With an indoor atrium, waterfall, and glass elevator with freaky mirrored ceiling, we were satisfied with our surroundings. Our room is right outside the elevator door, but it was quiet last night. The sheets are soft, the beds are cushy and there are more pillows than we know what to do with. It’s a beautiful day in a new state.

From the 8th Floor of the Holiday Inn

Kelsea woke up once to plug in her phone and her backpack got her into a nearly unbreakable ju-jitsu hold so she went back to sleep, as is evidenced by the lump shown below:

My Loveable Lump

Time to poke the lump and start the day.

Last week at our writer’s meeting at work, my boss asked me what else was happening in my life – we always end our writer’s meetings that way, since the writers actually interact very little during the week.

I told the team that Kelsea was starting high school on Monday.  And they all said, “Awwwww, are you okay???”

I thought that was a perfectly bizarre reaction.  Am I okay?  Of course I am okay.  Why would I NOT be okay?  It’s not as if I’M starting high school (again… if I were, then I probably would not be okay).

When I started high school, back in the age before cell phones, computers, electricity, fire, etc., it wasn’t that big a deal for me. I went to a small school, and was with the same people I’d been in school with since kindergarten.  The most significant thing was that I finally got to change campuses.

It’s different for Kelsea.  She’s been to a K-8 school, so there was a certain similarity, in that she had been with a lot of the same kids for a long time, and in the same building all of those years.  And she was absolutely sick of it.  It’s been great how excited she’s been about starting high school.  She’s always wanted to go to this school, ever since her older cousins went there.

Of course, she had a day or two of anxiety when she found out that she didn’t know a soul in any of her classes – and she had really been looking forward to going to class with her friends.  But that has ebbed. She’ll still see her friends.  Even though she’s a bit shy, she’ll make new friends.  She seems to do that quite well – much better than she gives herself credit for. And I heard something today that I’d never heard from her before: her talking to her friends about what they were going to wear tomorrow.

This weekend, we went clothes shopping for her – new jeans and T-shirts (almost all from thrift shops, where things are stylish, unique, and inexpensive.)  We had a great time together.  I love it when she wants new clothes, because it so seldom happens.  And we found the absolute BEST thing of all: a pair of teal green genuine Converse high-tops (that fit both of us) for $5!

Our new shoes

We were so excited.  She’s wearing them now, as she’s wandering around for a last hurrah with Uber-Cool Will. I believe they are off to the mall to buy glow-in-the-dark shoelaces and a mustache belt (don’t ask – I’m not sure.)

Her schedule is such that it will be tough for her to stay with me at all during the week.  We may work it out – we’ll just have to see.  Which means I’ll miss her.  And I’ll (finally) really be here at the Bungalow alone (except for the cat who isn’t really mine).

Sat cat sitting

I don’t know if it’s that realization that’s got me a little verklempt, or if it is as my co-workers inquired, that I am suddenly “not okay” – that I am undergoing a realization that my little girl is really growing up, that she will always be my little girl, but that we’ve only got four years worth of weekends and summers together until she’s off on her own.  I suspect there’s a bit of that playing into my feelings.

These days, though, I am not borrowing trouble.  I am so happy that she’s happy, excited, and who she is.  My feelings are about me letting go and moving on, which is the story of my life these last few years.  Maybe it’s the story of all of our lives from the day we leave the womb.  I don’t really know.

I know I feel pretty lucky to be sitting on my own front porch, writing, fending off mosquitoes, listening to my wind chimes, a glass of wine at hand. It’s a far cry from where I thought I’d be now, if I ever even thought this far into my own future, when I started high school.  Or at this time last year, for that matter. “God made the world round so we could not see too far down the road.”  Truly, I never saw this.

The View From My Front Porch

What I do know with an absolute certainty is that I am blessed to have such a cool human being as my daughter in my life.

Kelsea and Blossom

(All together now…”I don’t have to speak, she defends me.”)

In many ways, Donkey Derby Days is like any other small town festival.  With the exception of a lot of asses.  Well, maybe that’s also consistent with quite a few small town festivals.

Small Town Festival, Big City Ass (not mine)

The festivities themselves started bright and early at 10:00 am on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, and we were right on the spot for the first event: the Hairiest Legs contest.  While we were desperately hoping that there’d be some mountain women in this competition, we were disappointed.  In fact, there were only a few participants.  I would recommend to the organizers that this event be held later in the day, after the Beer Tent has been open for a while.

The Beer Tent In A Quiet Moment

The judge for the hairiest legs contest not only had to view them but had to stroke them.  There were no wookie-worthy contestants, but the winner, Levi, did indeed have a most hirsute pair of gams.

Levi, He of the Hairiest Legs

We made our way through the street vendors, stopping on occasion to inspect their wares more closely.  I saved $30 by not buying myself a dress I really wanted.

You can almost see the dress I didn't buy over there on the right...

Glass items were very popular. One gentleman was concerned that his crystals were setting the tablecloth on fire (they were).

Opaline crystals

The Air Force Academy Falconeering Club had a beautiful bird on display.  Kelsea didn’t mind looking at the cadet either.

Air Force Falcon

As is common at almost every festival, someone was selling stuff from South America.  Do they come all that way just for the summer?  And how do they make any money?

Denizens of the Lower Realm

Mountain ladies were selling handmade soap.

Touchy Feely Soapy

We took a side detour into a couple of shops along the main drag to get out of the sun.  Kelsea tried on some magnificent hats.

Napoleana

We resisted nearly uncontrollable purchasing impulses.

Seriously.

And then wandered back down to discover one of my favorite elements of any festival….. the petting zoo! Kelsea has temporarily outgrown the petting zoo.  I, apparently, am experiencing my second (third? fourth?) childhood, so I was right in there with all the other 8-year olds.  Let me tell you, this was some petting zoo!

We had a mini-yak.

Mini-Yak

A rather assertive and wide-bodied llama.

A One-Sided Conversation

Caution: Wide Load

A ram and numerous goats:

There was a little girl who had a little curl...

Incredibly Teeny Incredibly Cute Incredible Baby Goat

And of course, the star of the show, the donkey.

The Star in Profile

The donkeys, however, after consulting,

Consultation

Decided to be ornery and present me with their best side.

The result of the consultation.

Some of the tamer critters were providing donkey rides for the younger set.

Ready to Ride

Trying To Tip... Or Eat The Tips?

That made the poor chained-up pony rides on the hill at the “kids” part of the festival rather unnecessary.  Those ponies always looks so miserable.  I wish that particular form of entertainment would be banned. But we did like the giant Plinko Board.

Giant Plinko = Cool/Pony Rides = Not Cool

We filled out a survey for Santa,

Santa? We did see a sign for his house up the road...

and found ourselves the perfect parade watching spot across from Big Jim’s casino.  The parade opened up with the Civil War Soldiers.  Or maybe they were the Calvary.  I’m not quite sure.

Parade Opener

And it consisted of queens (not the city kind):

Queen of Somewhere Way Out West

Dogs:

Happy Dog, Happy Dog

Classic cars:

An Oldie...

And a goodie.

Classic people:

Escorted Down The Avenue

Fire and rescue services (Kelsea’s favorite):

She waves at every emergency vehicle she passes (but not the po-po).

Pre-Parade Pose

Ranchers:

A long line of ranchers

Here come the cowboys... (an inappropriate song line comes to mind)

A big man needs a big horse. One big horse = check.

and Shriners.

One of many Shriners

I was so happy to FINALLY see their little cars in an actual parade.

What if we all drove these little cars? Would the world be a happier place?

Next came the event we’d ALL been waiting for: The Donkey Derby!  I will say that Kelsea and I discussed participating.  First we said yes, then we said no.  Then we decided we needed to train so we could do it next year.  Then when we realized we wanted to do it this year, it was too late.

The Long Donkey Road

Participants started up at the top of the hill by the old jail and received a set of terrifying instructions from a mountain man.

Mountain Man who provided instructions to city slickers

Donkey Chaos

Lining up (in a manner of speaking)

The more ornery local pack was gathered to offer brays of advice to their brethren as they started down the street.

Watching and Laughing

At the sound of the rifle shot (hope it was blanks or we might be one donkey or ass-puller short), they were off!  Off is a relative term.  Some would go and some wouldn’t.

Donkey Chaos In Motion

One poor man had to physically lift his donkey in the air to get it started after it stopped.

The newest fad - donkey hefting.

One refused to move until its bowels had done so.

Emptying the tank

And one looked as if he were about to drop dead on the spot, poor thing.

One unhappy donkey

But others were frisking along so quickly their handlers had trouble keeping up.

Does this thing come with instructions?

It was a long course, down the hill and up the hill, about a mile in all.  At the end, everyone got a trophy and the donkeys got lots of noms.

Give me noms. Now.

It was quite an event, and it helped our strategic planning to see it on two different days.  We saw the start and the middle and then met the tribe at the end.

Tune in tomorrow for the second day competitions and some outtake shots from the parade!  I leave you with this image to shadow your dreams.

Attack of the 50-foot teenager

Kelsea (and Uber-Cool Will) graduated from eighth grade last week. 

This was a big deal, much bigger than I had thought. 

There was no graduation from eighth grade for me.  Not that I didn’t, mind you, just that they didn’t celebrate such things.  I was in a Pre-K through 12 school, so for us, it was just the end of another year.  The big difference was that we moved to the Upper School campus in 9th grade, but otherwise? Meh.

So I was approaching Kelsea’s end of eighth grade as I had approached my own – just the gateway to another summer.  I had no idea how wrong I was.  I’m still unsure if it’s a big deal because she’s going to a different school – high school – or if it’s a big deal because times have changed and we now feel the need to make a big deal out of everything that our kids do as a part of being human and semi-adult, from coming in last in a competition to helping a duck across the street.

But a big deal it was, and I was proud to be a part of it.  All the girls in her class dressed up.  As you’ve probably been able to tell from my talking about Kelsea, she’s about as far from a girly-girl as Abe Lincoln is from Diana Ross.  So when she told me she wanted to wear a dress for graduation, I thought she was kidding.  She wasn’t.  And she didn’t just wear a nice short-skirted party dress like every other eighth-grade girl.  If she was going to wear a dress, she said, she wanted to do it her own way and make a statement.  Thankfully the statement wasn’t this:

or this:

No, she wanted to express her own sense of style.  So she wore a floor length dress, and her long hair down, and she looked gorgeous.  And she only tripped on it once on her two trips up to the platform (that would be her dress, not her hair).

The continuation ceremony was looong – almost two hours.  There were the requisite number of inspirational speeches about “what school has meant to me” and “taking the next step into the journey towards adulthood”.  One excellent student speaker told an embarrassing story about her mom from when she was in high school.  I surely hope she discussed this with her mom beforehand, otherwise the poor woman no doubt wished she could sink into the floor.

One of the 90 students in Kelsea’s graduating class had succumbed to cancer shortly after the beginning of the year.  The staff acknowledged her and her parents who were in the audience, and that brought tears to my eyes.  They acknowledged all the veterans among the parents, which I thought was a nice touch.  And at diploma time, when the principal said to hold applause until each row had received their sheepskin (or cardboard, as sheep are scarce these days), we were a poor audience and refused to do so, but came to an unspoken compromise by making a coordinated single clap for each student, with a more robust chatter of applause after each row.  I thought it was hysterical, but I would get distracted, and clap off beat, which was rather awkward.

Kelsea had straight As, so she was on the President’s Honor Roll, which included a certificate signed by Barak Obama.  She and I both wanted to wet the ink to see if it was a genuine signature, but we resisted.  My niece, who works in the governor’s office, also gave her a personal letter from the Governor, congratulating her on her achievements – that one really was a genuine signature.

And as for Kelsea, she is so relieved to be out of middle school that she said she almost wishes summer was over – she’s that eager to start high school.  I hope it lives up to her expectations.  She used to love school (in elementary school) and she just loathed middle school, even though she did well.  But for now, she just wants to sleep as late as she feels like sleeping.  I, for one, will let her do so – though I may be the only one who will let her do so.

I am so proud of my lovely girl.  Watching her cross the stage with poise and joyfulness was a wonderful experience.

So I guess it is a big deal after all.

Kelsea is grounded.  She is not allowed to hang out with her friends for a week.

Why, you may ask?  After all, as I’ve expounded on endlessly, she’s such an awesome person and an amazing teenager.  But she wouldn’t be a perfect teenager if she didn’t screw up sometimes, would she?

That time arrived on Friday night.  At 1:15 in the morning on Friday night, to be exact.  I’m sorry, but at age 14, you CANNOT come home at 1:15 in the morning and not be in trouble (one way or another, and frankly, I prefer this way to the alternate troubles.)

I was supposed to pick her up when I got back from Denver, after going out with some friends after work.  About 6:30, she called me to ask if she could go to the movies with three of her friends.  The movie didn’t start until almost 8:00, which would put her home around 11:00, but one of the other moms was driving, and 11:00 is the shank of the evening for these guys.  Fine by me!

I arrived home around 9:30, and at about 10:00, I texted her to check on her timeline.  Her response?  ‘Still at movies.’  That worked from a timing standpoint – a movie can run about 2 hours these days.  She would be home soon.  I skyped with a friend, watched something on the Bonnet Channel, and at about 11:00, tried to call her.  It went to voicemail – not so good.  OK, I’ll wait a while.  I fell asleep on the couch, since going to bed without her being home was not an option.  When I woke up, it was 12:45 – no call, no text, nothing but silence.

I didn’t know what to think.  Be angry?  Yes.  Be scared?  Absolutely.  I called her Dad, so as to put him into the same state of mind – probably not the best idea, since he and I are in a not-getting-along phase, but I felt it was my parental responsibility to let him know what was up, and I just had to bear up under any accusations of bad parenting.

She still wasn’t answering her phone.  I had no idea where she was.  The movie let out hours ago. 

I remember the only argument I ever had with my own father.  I was about 16, and I had stayed out with my friends, lost track of time, and came home about two hours late without having called (this was before the days of cellphones – we used coconuts and smoke signals back then).  My parents had been frantic.  They had called my friends’ parents.  They had called the hospitals.  They had even called the morgue.  I’m not kidding.  I was so angry that they had so overreacted that I told them I was leaving again.  My calm, peace-loving, gentle dad – the man from whom I got my temper – stood in front of the front door with his arms spread and said, “If you’re going, you’re going to have to go through me.”  I thought about that for a split second, my teenage rage boiling like Vesuvius – then turned on my heel (no doubt with some choice words), stalked off to my room and slammed the door.  For me, there were no other repercussions; like me, my parents did not believe in curfews – they believed in our being committed to our words about when we would be home.  But it certainly never happened again.

Back to the present day.  I figured out that if Kelsea wasn’t answering her phone, one of her friends might, so I called Uber-Cool Will, who quickly handed the phone to Kelsea.  “I’m getting dropped off soon,” she said hurriedly. “We’re dropping off Will first.”  Where had they been?  “At dinner at Old Chicago.”  And she didn’t think to call.  She lost track of time.  She had her phone turned off since she’d been at the movies.  Hmmm. 

Ex-Pat called one of her other friends right around the time she and I hung up, so she knew she was in deep.  I was furious by the time she got home – 1:15. 

“Am I in trouble?, she asked, standing in my bedroom door.  ”
Yup,” I replied. 
“What are you going to do?”
“You’re grounded.”
“REALLY?”  She sounded so incredibly pleased. “I’ve never been grounded!”

This punishment wasn’t turning out exactly the way I had imagined.  She’s always been so good, I think she was excited to feel like a “bad” teenager.

“Is this the worst thing I’ve ever done?”
“I think so.”
“Wow!”  She smiled broadly.

What the heck.  That’s tough to parent.  She was extremely apologetic, and clearly understands the worry she caused us.  She wasn’t defensive or combative.  And I know she’s not going to show up on an episode of  “16 and Pregnant”.  Had I been the mother who was driving, things would have been very different. There’s no way I would let kids stay out that late without being sure everyone had contacted their parents – and I don’t think I’d even consider allowing kids to stay out that late anyway.  But I wasn’t in her shoes at the time.

So Kelsea is grounded for a week.  Meaning she can’t hang out with her friends except at school.  She just gets to hang out with me.  Poor thing.  Fortunately for her, the week’s punishment ends in time for the season opening of Elitch Gardens, Denver’s equivalent of Six Flags, which she and her friends have been looking forward to for months.  If I were a stricter, tougher mom, I would ban her from attending.  But I think she’s learned what not to do.  I trust so.

I really, really hope so.

As you know, I love my daughter to  infinity and back again an infinite number of times.  We never fight.  We just don’t.  We have what I consider an unusual relationship for a teenage daughter and her mother.

Given that, I’m not accustomed to getting angry with her.  I do know that happens.  And I am committed to my role as a mother, in which I teach my daughter self-discipline, self-worth, self-respect and how her choices impact herself and others.  I’ve tried to do this all along, and feel I (and Pat) have done a good job.  She’s a lovely, considerate, thoughtful person.

Today, we’re going to the auction, and taking Uber-Cool Will with us.  I’ve been looking forward to it since the last auction, and I know Kelsea has too.  We scoped out the goods yesterday, and have our eye on a 70-year old upright icebox that Kelsea can use as a dresser, since she doesn’t want an ordinary one.

We had dinner at my niece’s last night, got home about 10:00 and to bed about 11:00.  She was going to Skype with Will for a little while – they talk constantly.  I was fine with that.  I understand that she’s a night person, and I understand the teenagers have different circadian rhythms.

I woke to the sound of her voice, so I went to check on her.  She will still Skyping with Will.  When I asked her what time it was, she said, “Not too late….only about….3:40.”  3:40?????  I told her to sign off immediately.  Five minutes later, I could hear that she was still on.  And I got mad.

I went in and turned on her light and told her to shut it down that minute.  She’s not accustomed to me getting mad, so I guess she knew I meant business, because she did.  And then I chewed her out. 

She had struck a nerve, and I recognized that.  As I was laying in bed, listening to her still being up, I felt exactly the same way as I used to feel when I was married.  Pat always did this same thing.  We would have plans to do something special and he would stay up (or in his case, out) until the wee small hours and then be sluggish, hungover and too tired to be a happy participant in whatever our special plans were.  I could feel the slow boil inside of me as I was laying there, something I had never thought I would feel again.

So when I began the chewing-out, I began by telling her that I knew there was a certain part of projection occurring on my part, because of this memory.  However, I told her it was inconsiderate of her to stay up so long that she would be too tired and grumpy to share in our day tomorrow, and I was disappointed – which is one of the worst things I can ever say to her.  She tried to interject with a couple of “Buts”, “but” I told her I really didn’t want to hear them.  I told her I was understanding of her rhythms and feelings, “but” that this kind of behavior wasn’t taking care of herself and wasn’t respectful of others when she had plans with those others (a.k.a., me). 

I pointed out to her that I was using “I” statements, like her school counselors have coached all the kids. I didn’t raise my voice.  I didn’t tell her that her behavior was wrong.  I just told her how her choices are impacting me and my feelings, and how they will likely impact her.  And that this is an area where she needs some self-discipline.

We had been talking about this sort of thing on the way home earlier in the day, about how she tends to live exclusively in the present, with a “cross that bridge when we come to it” attitude.  I generally support that attitude, however, I told her, she must learn to have a broader vision, incorporating the lessons learned from her past experiences and her insight into how the present can alter the future, for good – or bad.  I reinforced that message at 4:00 am, when she reminded me of that conversation.   But other than that, she was silent – as she should have been.

I turned off the light and went back to bed, still slightly fuming, now moreso at the thought that on this, my one night to sleep in, I was now awake at 4:00 am.  One of the things I realized, as I lay there in the dark, was that I want to spend my time with people who take care of themselves, as that’s a sign of valuing oneself.  And I want to take care of myself, as that’s a sign that I value myself.  And I want Kelsea to learn, understand and know that lesson in her heart of hearts.

I did get back to sleep for another few hours.  It’s now 9:30.  She’s got another hour or so to sleep.  I’m not mad any more.  But I am curious as to what she’ll say when she gets up.

I know I’m right.  I know she knows I’m right.  It’s just interesting getting mad at her.

Cautious Experimentation

When I was in junior high (or middle school, as we called it), “they” built a mall about three miles from my school.  At that time, school was at the very edge of any commercial development – I think the closest sizeable business, aside from home-based little photo studios and woodworkers, was a grocery store. I believe it was a Piggly Wiggly. 

And of course, there was the 7-11 that was just on the other side of the school property line – you could sneak down the hill through the woods to get an Icee or Pixie Stix or Nik-L-Nips if you were brave enough to risk getting caught.

But suddenly, almost within our grasp, was South Square Mall.   Almost heaven.

My friends and I used to beg whatever parent was available to take us there after school and let us hang out.  And hang out we did.  We would shop idly – maybe buy a scarf, a record, an Orange Julius.  We would mill around the food court with its orange formica tables.  We would check out boys.  We would yell at each other from different levels of the mall.  We would play on the escalators.  We would shriek and whisper and laugh and wonder what schools other kids went to – other kids who were doing the exact same thing.

An abandoned adolescent memory - South Square Mall shortly before demolition in 2001.

Ah, the mall.  It provided a sense of adulthood and freedom.  Except for one instance, when I found myself trapped in the seatbelt of my best friend’s father’s pale blue Cadillac convertible.  It was one of those lap belts and it was completely jammed and I was completely trapped.  Fortunately, I was also completely skinny and after about 15 minutes of struggle, which included shedding my jeans, bruising my hiplets and sucking my stomach in so that it was flush with my spine, I was able to slide out from the top.  I amazed even myself.  I felt like a teenage female Houdini.

Fast forward 32 years.  Fly west 1700 miles west.  Turn my brown hair blonde and my green eyes blue.  And you have Kelsea, hanging out at Flatirons Crossing Mall with her friends.  Guess what they do?  They loaf around the food court, only this one has a fireplace.  They buy little things like smelly rubber balls.  They sample the goods at the Apple store.  They play on the escalators.  They shriek and whisper.  They follow people around.  They scope out cute guys.  They speculate on the identity of other students.  Hmmm….sounds so very, wistfully familiar.

Kelsea said, in the course of a conversation the other day, “Everyone gets thrown out of the mall once, right?”  It was a rhetorical question, and one she immediately regretted.  My response?  I looked at her.  And decided it was one of those follow-up questions best left unasked.  She needs to have some things to tell me later.

I do believe that one more torch has been passed.

Wednesday was Kelsea’s birthday.  She’s 14 now.  As she puts it, she’s now officially a teenager – 13 was just a warm-up year.  She didn’t want to make a big deal out of her birthday, so it was just a few gifts and dinner with Pat and me.  And of course, lots of facebook greetings.

I remember splotches of my childhood – probably more splotches than most people do.  But my memories of 14 and up are pretty continuous.  God, I was a pain in the ass at 14.  That was the year that I was incredibly embarassed to be a part of my own family.  I just wanted to be grown up and independent.  We took a train across Canada that summer and I remember my Mother blocking some twenty-something Frenchman who was trying to flirt with me.  She was having none of that.  And I remember saying to a boy that I met on the trip, who was a year older than me, that “Things change when you’re 15.”  Looking back, I would say that’s true.

Kelsea seems much more comfortable in her skin at 14 than I did.  While her dreams and plans change with expected regularity, she seems grounded.  (Of course, my dreams and plans change with alarming regularity now at 48, and I don’t wish that on anyone.)  She’s well-liked.  She stands up for herself, her friends, and those who don’t have a voice of their own (such as the planet Pluto – and yes, I said PLANET.)  She is curious – among her few birthday presents were, at her request, Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species and Richard Dawkins’ The God Dilemma.  Seriously.  I haven’t even read these books, but she’s trying to organize her opinions about God.  More power to her.

She’s funny and compassionate.  She’s relatively reasonable for a teenager as long as she’s treated with respect.  She does get mad about things, and when she does, steam comes out of her ears.  She’s your average level of teenage grumpy.  She hates getting up in the morning and she hates being given “busywork” in the form of homework, especially when it’s a topic she will never need or use and has no pertinence in any vision of daily life.

In short, she’s awesome and the best thing in my life.  I hope she has a spectacular year.

June 2019
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