Category Archives: conversations to remember

Adulthood: Being One vs. Feeling Like One


“Will I be an adult when I’m 18?”

My seven-year-old son sat across from me carefully and deliberately savoring every morsel of a chocolate chip cookie dough cake pop. It was our sweet tradition each week when his older brother took a 30-minute drum lesson across the street.

I tried to imagine my baby boy at 18, still a teenager, but legally old enough to vote, establish credit, apply for a loan, pay taxes, join the military, serve on a jury, and get married. I thought about how invincible I felt when I was 18 and about how excited and ready I felt for adulthood nearly 23 years ago.

Was I an adult when went to college a thousand miles away from home?

Was I an adult when I decided to pursue a career in dance instead of getting a “real” job? Was I an adult when I eventually got a “real” job?

Was I an adult when I stood on West 13th Street in New York City on September 11, 2001 and watched flames engulf the Twin Towers? Was I an adult when I waited hours to find my fiancé covered in dust?

Was I an adult when I got married?

Was I an adult when I miscarried and ended up with cancer in my uterus? Was I an adult when I plodded through the depression that followed?

Was I an adult when I eventually became a mother?

Was I an adult when I left my career to be a stay-at-home mom?

Was I an adult when discovered my first-born son had sensory processing disorder?

Was I an adult when I held my sick dog in my arms while he was put down? Was I an adult when I had to explain his death to my young children?

Was I an adult when I had two rounds of Mohs surgery on my face to remove a basal cell carcinoma?

Was I an adult when I packed up my family and moved away from everyone and everything we knew for a fresh start?

Was I an adult when my watched my husband lose his parents (and my kids lose their grandparents) to unjust battles with dementia and lung cancer within eight months of each other?

On the cusp of 41 – with a husband, two adolescent children, aging parents, a mortgage to pay, and a colonoscopy on the calendar – I often twist my neck looking for the adult in the room. The older I get, the less invincible, excited, or ready I feel for the responsibilities that come with the freedoms to adulthood.

I’ve lived through some profoundly grownup experiences – some idyllic and thrilling and some less so – since I turned 18, but if I’m being honest, I’ve never felt very much like an adult during any of them. Then again, that wasn’t my son’s question. He didn’t ask if he would feel like an adult when turned 18. Rather, he asked if he would be an adult when he turned 18.

“Yes, you’ll be an adult when you’re 18.” He smiled. He certainly had a lot to look forward to, including eating chocolate chip cookie dough cake pops whenever he wanted. When he finished the last bite, we walked hand in hand back to the car to pick up his brother.





Filed under conversations to remember, motherhood

Connecting with Boys Offline in an Online World

“Mommy, do you remember that time you played Skylanders with me?”

My nine-year-old son asks me this question from time to time. I do remember. It was the first and only time I played Skylanders because I would rather get a root canal. Video games are not my thing. I’m a good person and a great mom, and I will take both of my boys down in an art challenge or Lego build any day of the week, but I’m just not interested in Skylanders, Minecraft, PvZ, Roblox, or whatever game they begged me to download last night.

Still, I want to engage my two post-millenial “gamer” kids. I want to bond with them, confide in them, and inspire their creativity. I want them to trust me and value my opinion, and I want to understand their 21st century adolescent angst. I want to learn about their interests and speak their language. (Except when they speak in hashtags. Then I want to hide in the basement.)

So how do I connect with my sons offline if I don’t want to connect with them online?

Asking them to turn away from their screens is only part of the solution. If I’m fortunate enough to have their undivided attention, I have to be resourceful. Igniting conversation that peels back layers is hard, especially when “How was your day?” is answered with “fine” and “Who did you play with at recess?” reveals names but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter or even remotely close to their hearts.

Communicating with boys requires patience, ingenuity, variety, and repetition.

That’s why we have a Happiness Jar. There’s a large glass hurricane vase on our dining room table and stack of small squares of paper and a pen next to it. If something makes you happy, you write it down and toss it in the vase. I’ll never forget the afternoon when my nine-year-old stomped over to the table, wrote something feverishly on a piece of paper, threw it in the vase, and ran to his room. I looked at what he wrote. “Nothing.” Nothing made him happy, and that small but explosive expression of emotion helped us begin an honest and therapeutic conversation about our recent long-distance move away from friends and family.

That’s why we walk to and from school. Sometimes we talk about the weather and squirrels, but other times we talk about presidential politics, what we want to name a puppy, where we want to travel, and what happens when you die. The sky is the limit on these brief but fruitful morning and afternoon walks.

That’s why we have a Key Jar. There’s a mason jar on our kitchen table filled with questions meant to spark thought-provoking conversations at dinnertime. On the night we talked about what would be different in the world in ten years and what would be the same, I learned that my nine-year-old thinks (hopes?) computers will download information in brains so kids don’t have to go to school and my six-year-old wants to become a scientist so he can find a cure for type 1 diabetes, which his cousin was diagnosed with over a year ago. Thankfully, we agreed that moms and dads will still hug and kiss their kids and tuck them in at night.

That’s why we have “For Our Eyes Only” journals. I bought notebooks for each of my boys that are like diaries, except they share them with me. We take turns creating captions for pictures, describing dreams, and asking and answering questions. In the three days since we started the journals, my six-year-old has already told me the color he wants to paint his bedroom and the names of his best friends, and he’s asked me, “What and ‘whare’ have you been wanting to do your life?” and “When you go home and ‘Im’ grown up what will your house look like?” Whoah.

I didn’t expect these unplugged communication tools to work on my very plugged-in kids, and sometimes they don’t, but – boy, oh boy – sometimes they do. It is possible to dig deep into boys’ hearts and minds, and you don’t need to do it online, although that works, too.



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Filed under boys, communication, conversations to remember

God Is In The Picture

I’m as surprised as you are that I’m writing about God. As Dylan would say, “Awkwaaaaaard.” I feel as qualified to talk about God as I do quantum physics or Minecraft mods. What the heck is a mod, anyway? I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to write God or if I’m supposed to write G-d. The whole thing makes me as uncomfortable as watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” I’m going to stick with the “o” over the dash here, because the dash makes me feel even more anxious, if that’s possible.

I believe in an energy that runs through the universe and that if I’m lucky or fortunate or grateful enough, I can tap into it to feel something larger than myself, but I don’t know if that means I believe in God.

I send prayers to friends and family who are grieving or ill, I whisper a prayer for safe travels every time I get on and off an airplane, and I see my beloved Harry in rainbows and sunsets, but I don’t know if that means I believe in God.

Years ago, a gust of wind knocked me off of my feet after my Great Aunt Glenna died. I felt her presence so fiercely that I lost my breath, but I don’t know if that means I believe in God.

I don’t know why I can’t just say that I do or that I don’t believe in God. Whichever it is, a concrete answer would be a lot easier to live with than the perpetual questioning to which I subject myself. But, I can’t. I simply don’t have an answer, so God and I have an unwritten agreement to keep a safe distance from one another. We avoid eye contact, we’re not friends on Facebook, and we let calls go to straight to voicemail, but regardless of our efforts, something keeps bringing us together.

It’s not motherhood per se. Becoming a mother didn’t sway me one way or the other, although I totally get how it could. I mean, I grew a human being inside of my body! Twice! My molar pregnancy didn’t squash or boost my faith either. It just made me angry and sad. A decade later, it’s a wash. I’ve experienced the devastation of loss and the miracle of life, and I’m still on the fence.

It’s my kids. My children have natural and independent inclinations toward God and the unknown that have nothing to do with me (that I’m aware of). I have parented them the same. I have given them the same foundation of values. I have provided them with the same education. Yet, Dylan questions everything. He’s fascinated with death and insanely inquisitive about the afterlife, so much so that I sometimes wonder if maybe he’s been here (or there?) before. Whereas some kids ask “Why?” on a permanent loop, Dylan’s go-to question is, “What happens after we die?”

Riley, on the other hand, plainly and beautifully accepts God as true. “God is everywhere,” he once told me once while nibbling on Goldfish crackers in the car. “God is in my Goldfish,” he said munching away. How could I argue with that? It was a lovely sentiment, especially considering how many Goldfish cracker crumbs were on the floor of the backseat of my car.

Another time, Dylan asked, “Who makes shoes?”

Riley said, “God makes shoes.”

“Actually,” I piped in, “people make shoes,” to which Riley concluded, “God makes all the things that people don’t know how to make.”

Fair enough.

These conversations happened when the boys were much younger, but I remember them clearly – in fact, I wrote them down – because I never want to forget the authentic and easygoing relationship they have with God. I remain as confused as ever, but my kids and their unabashed honesty – about their certainty or their doubt – have taught me to appreciate my spiritual journey more and worry about my spiritual destination less.

I no longer cower from or cringe over my boys’ questions about life and death and everything in between. I welcome the opportunity to engage their curiosity and confront my own hesitancy. When Riley says, “God is in my heart,” I’m comforted by his faith (how ever long it lasts), and I’m equally reassured by Dylan’s courage to question it all.

Not long ago, Riley and I did an art challenge after dinner. In an art challenge, we choose a theme and then we each draw a picture. When we’re done, Dylan or Dad picks a winner. (Exciting stuff, I know. At least it’s not Minecraft!) That night, I drew a bird per Riley’s instruction and he drew a truck per his whim.

Several minutes into our battle, he said, “I think I’m going to win.”

“Why is that?” I asked as I feverishly drew a bird with colorful feathers surrounded by fall foliage.

“Because God is in the picture,” he said.

“God is in your picture?” I asked peeking over.

“He’s building a house,” Riley explained.


Indeed, God was building a house in the sky above the truck, Best Buy, and “Targit.”

My little feathered friend and I were totally screwed, because you can’t win an art challenge if your opponent has God in his picture. Still, I felt triumphant because, thanks to my kids, God is in my picture, too.


Not that picture. ↑

This picture. ↓



Filed under boys, conversations to remember, death, Harry, molar pregnancy, motherhood, religion