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My aging parents have officially lost all sense of time, and I guess this is when it begins. In your fifties, empty nesters, your baby out in the world. “Where does the time go?” they say. I look at this picture of Huck from 2013 (taken by Shannon during an early morning algebra lecture) and shake my head in wonder. I could walk into the other room and find him like this and be unsurprised.

These days I keep catching myself saying “this time last year” and remembering Huck’s last day of high school, awards ceremonies, graduations, parties, and all the emotions, stress, and fun of May 2023. Having survived his first year of college I realize how different those realities are; it’s like the difference between parenting a baby and a toddler. Both are pretty dependent on you for everything, both are cute in their own ways, but walking makes all the difference. Even thinking back to how I felt last semester – checking the CMU webcam for a celebrity sighting, his class schedule posted on my work bulletin board, trying to memorize all his professors’ and friends’ names – compared to the end of year when I no longer need to know what he’s doing every second and have finally given up on identifying people in pictures.

Here’s what I do know about my toddler’s second semester of college: He struggled and learned never again to overload on classes. He had a couple of beautiful choir concerts – one accompanied by the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra – and that he loves being in charge of props for plays and musicals. He joined the newspaper club as a copy editor and got hired as a Tartan Ambassador giving tours to prospective students while wearing a sharp red polo. And I know that when asked why he wanted to be a math TA for his favorite professor next year, he described the many years his mother (& others) endured his math lectures on white boards and how fun it sounds to help  math students who actually understand what he’s talking about. (I feel responsible for him getting the job.)

Tomorrow Huck will leave his freshman dorm for the last time and drag his luggage onto the bus to the airport for his summer visit home. This morning Huck FaceTimed to talk through how to check a bag at the airport “because I’ve never done that before.” And just like that, I became the expert again for a fleeting minute.

Where does the time go?

Huck at the Pittsburgh Zoo during Finals Week (with Jacqueline maybe?)

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Last September when we received Sunny’s ashes in a beautiful wooden box with flowers engraved on the top, we also received a sweet certificate with a poem as if written by her.  This was the final line: “Don’t hold the love that you have within yourself. Give it to another like me and then I will live forever.” Troy was ready to follow these instructions; I was not. Until a day in mid-February when without warning, I suddenly was. The timing wasn’t quite right, as our very anti-dog son was about to come home for an early spring break that coincided with his 19th birthday. Nonetheless, our Facebook feeds immediately became filled with ads for dog food, dog beds, and pet insurance due to our sudden obsession with the local dog shelters, Petfinder, and NWA Corgi social media pages.

And that’s how we found Otis, the five month old 13 pound tri-colored Pembroke Welsh Corgi who has taken over our lives! To quote one of our friends, he’s “deliberate premeditated cuteness.” He inspires high pitched squeals wherever he goes and loves all strangers. He has a British accent, his old brother Max’s passionate bark, and boundless play energy until he suddenly falls asleep. He’s scared of Troy’s guitar and gardening equipment and needs a running start to jump onto the couch. He eats voraciously, has very sharp teeth, and recently discovered Sunny’s private water fountain in our little backyard pond. He came to us crate trained, but sometimes Troy “accidentally” falls asleep with him in the bed. He loves a pillow top mattress!

Huck was not pleased with this decision, to put it lightly, but when he met this new family member he said, “I can see how if you like dogs you might think he was cute.” When our friend Shana asked how he felt about Otis, he answered, “Only negative things.” After the laughter subsided he added, “But I’m happy for my parents.”

So are we!

And of course … HAPPY 19TH BIRTHDAY TO HUCK!!!

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What a wonderful four weeks we had with Huck, known as Will to his professors and friends in Pittsburgh. He struck a very nice balance of spending quality time with his lonely old parents and his high school friends. Thanks to two full snow days, including the day before he left, we got some cozy bonus hours. (And he got out of town just in time to miss the current zero temps and snow.) There were card games and board games and puzzles, neighborhood walks, trips to Target, and so many fireside conversations. He took lots of candle lit bubble baths, ate at his favorite restaurants, sang with his favorite choir, and rang in the New Year with so many favorite grown-ups. And now he is back at CMU – though we did forget to buy him snow boots – ready for a packed second semester that includes more math, computer science, writing, biology, and choir.

One of the biggest changes for Huck during his first college semester is that he finally (barely) let go of his forever 4.0, thanks to the wisdom of his favorite professor who urges freshmen to find a school/life balance. He took many difficult math classes – officially feeling happily challenged in his favorite subject – and made the Mellon College of Science Dean’s List with Honors. He was given permission to“overload” in the spring semester with an extra class, including honors calculus, proving yet again that the stuff of my nightmares is his dream come true. And finally, he and his college bestie are doing props together for the first Scotch ‘n Soda play of the semester, something he is weirdly excited about. (I predict it has to do with spreadsheets.)

Fayetteville friends whose son went to college in NYC warned us that every visit home ends with another grief session, though slightly less each time. As he walked away from us into the airport Saturday morning with his pink floral suitcase and flowing mane of hair, I felt that familiar heart-clench as my dang brain played a precious medley of the last month. But now we know how it feels to live without him, knowing he’ll be back, loving all the stories from his new life, mentally preparing that next care package.

When Huck finally got back to Pittsburgh he texted a picture of his 9:30pm mozzarella sticks dinner at a campus food joint. I asked if it was fun to be back and he responded “yessss. everything is exactly as i left it.”

As it should be.

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On the Fayetteville Square there’s a little store that for years has had a very large, expensive piece of word art that I always stop to read, and it fills my eyes with tears every time. I must have mentioned this casually to Troy in the last month or so, because he visited the store, gasped at the size and price, and made his own version of it for me. Upon investigative researching, he discovered that it’s part of a beautiful short 1970 essay called “Let me Hold you While I May” by Mary Jean Irion, and here are the final words:

“Normal Day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want more than all the world your return.”

We’ve had a lot of perfectly normal days this Christmas break, our home once again filled with the sound of Huck’s voice and laughter, the smell of incense, the very sight of him. He’s been relaxed, affectionate, and present, doing puzzles and regularly winning at family card games. He doesn’t snack like the old Huck, and when asked why he said, “I realized how expensive chips were so I stopped buying them.” He has a new appreciation for home cooked meals and doesn’t do nearly the same amount of laundry as he used to. He still loves to sit and visit but has noticed his parents’ propensity to enter a room loudly and interrupt all conversations, causing him to sarcastically ask: “Can we play a game called when you enter this room last and there’s people talking, you are the lowest status?” This has proven especially tricky for Mr. Troy.

On January first of this fine year filled with the ups and downs of all years, we began filling an oversized glass jar with “good things” that were happening in our lives with the intention of emptying the jar on New Year’s Eve and reading the many, many colored note cards aloud. I know there will be lots of reminders of the big days we had in 2023 – Huck’s high school graduation, trips, visitors, celebrations, performances, college move-in day – but I’m most excited to read about all those wonderful normal days that got noticed.

Happy New Year, dear family & friends!

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When Huck was three, we were given an Elf on the Shelf, having no idea it would take over the world. We named ours Dixen and happily played along, hiding him each night so that Huck could find him in the morning with delight. Being one of those kids who figures things out quickly, he didn’t believe in this magic for long, but that did not, has not, stopped these parents. In fact, though Huck is oh so many miles away, still Troy and I take turns moving Dixen and documenting his location via our family text thread. I don’t know if Huck enjoys this ridiculous ritual or finds it embarrassing, but this mother apparently needs something to stay the same around here.

After a week of finals, including one that required three solid hours of intense proof writing (his kind of magic) followed by a 10pm a capella concert Tuesday night, Huck begins his journey home tomorrow morning. Thanks to Aunt Jeni, he’s now an experienced air traveler, which takes some anxiety out of the picture. Still, I will be most happy when he’s here on the couch next to me gazing at his Christmas tree, happy to have a bedroom to himself again for four weeks.

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Most of you know by now that we spent a magical Thanksgiving with Huck after all, thanks to the love of my crème de la crème of a baby sister Jeni and her outrageously generous family. When we pulled up to my parents’ house around 12:30 on Thanksgiving day to the sight of Huck in that familiar front yard wearing the same outfit he wore in one of his senior pictures, Troy and I thought we were seeing that photo come to life, for this is the way the surprised brain processes the impossible. To say he was a sight for sore eyes doesn’t quite describe the way my heart pounded out of my chest and tears shot out of my eyes. The weekend before I’d told my dad on the phone about my deeply physical urge to hug Huck, but that I had to wait a few more weeks for that. Instead I had 44 hours of intermittent hugs and hand holding and constant thanks giving.

Before the surprise of our lives, we had a couple of sweet days in Wichita with Troy’s fun family playing games, taking walks, and marveling at the mystery of children growing up. The only downfall of this whole plan was that in order to get out of FaceTiming from the airport, Huck told us he had a bad case of food poisoning, which is not what any mother wants to hear. To make up for that terrible lie, Aunt Jeni spared me the stress of his first airline travel alone (including nearly being stranded in Philadelphia), answering all of his questions about TSA, terminals, and gates. Huck’s brilliant Jayhawk cousin Lily picked him up from his very late flight in Kansas City with Chipotle dinner followed by a cuzzies slumber party in her Lawrence apartment before heading to Grandma and Grandpa’s on Thanksgiving Morn. Thank you to all of our beautiful family for such sweet, laughter-filled days and nights together during the most wonderful time of the year. And Huck, see you in 20 days!

Our first big reunion from a whole week apart in 2012

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Last week Huck texted me this passage from a book he loves: “I was a curious child: quick with questions and eager to learn. With acrobats and actors as my teachers, it is little wonder that I never grew to dread lessons as most children do.” It was a simple thank you love note that, as usual, made my day. Then he asked if we could watch a French film together for one of his assignments, and so Friday night many hundreds of miles apart, we three had a Watch Party of “Les Intouchables” followed by a post-movie discussion over FaceTime.

This semester without him has had its ups and downs. Troy and I have had all kinds of fun as empty nesters, often skipping sit-down dinners like a coupla teenagers who don’t have to worry about feeding their kid a proper meal. The tension of senior year stress has completely left our humble home that is now quieter and cleaner. No one’s judging our tech ineptitude or meal plans, I always get my favorite spot on the couch, and Troy’s got his car back that only slightly still smells of old Starbucks drinks.

But I’ve had two terrible colds and a mysterious, intermittent pain in my lower right side when I walk, which led me to the doctor followed by two specialists. After three urine samples, two ultrasounds, and a CT scan, my organs have been declared perfectly healthy and my HSA account depleted. We think it may be a strained psoas muscle after all. Meanwhile Troy’s seen the podiatrist twice and has good ankle days and bad ankle days, which thankfully hasn’t stopped us from taking glorious fall walks. His regular swims at the Center for Exercise mostly used by senior citizens and my recent visit to the Ozark Urology waiting room have done a lot to make us feel very, very young. Maybe not acrobat-young, but still.

Huck will stay in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving along with many other CMU students, enjoying a break from classes and a special dinner with his theatre friends, who are “his people.” Meanwhile these ol’ parents  will keep doing their stretches and counting down the days till he returns home to Fayetteville for a month of car sharing, family meals, and TV watching in the same room.

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This weekend is cold and rainy and perfect for recuperating from a hellish five day coughing extravaganza. While I overdosed on honey and cough drops, Huck was in tech week, its own kind of hell. He and fellow Scotch ‘n Soda non-major thespians opened and closed “Carrie” in just a little over 24 hours, followed by strike until 4am to take everything down and put everything away. While Huck was having the time of his life (both the best and the worst of), Troy and I relaxed in front of the fire and watched home movies from yesteryear. In one of these Huck is a pudgy, overly talkative 2-1/2 year old building sand apartments with me along the Hudson River in black and white. Troy, the master at editing these movies, underscored the whole thing with Coldplay’s “Fix You,” a melancholy song for such a sweet, mundane afternoon in our family’s life.

But now I understand what he was going for. We parents (and especially we moms) spend so many years fixing things for our children, because that’s our job for so long, and we don’t know when we’re supposed to stop. Or pretend to stop while still being ever ready with a Bandaid, a care package, an ear. Huck began his overwhelming week by texting me he was feeling sick and sleep deprived. Oh how I wanted to rush to his side with a basket of remedies and all his favorite foods. Instead I waited for his updates and sent encouraging emojis, constantly worrying about him while trying to keep my lungs from collapsing. On opening night, we FaceTimed as he put on his stage makeup and gossiped, complained, and described his favorite parts of the show. I don’t know about him, but I felt a little fixed.

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed

When you get what you want, but not what you need

When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep

Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face

When you lose something you can’t replace

When you love someone, but it goes to waste

Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you

And high up above, or down below

When you’re too in love to let it go

But if you never try, you’ll never know

Just what you’re worth

Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face

When you lose something you cannot replace

Tears stream down your face, and I

I promise you I will learn from my mistakes

Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones

And I will try to fix you.

(Coldplay)

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Huck’s at the halfway point of his first semester of college – seems so much longer than that – and as you can see Troy and I often think of him when we’re enjoying good food and drink. His response to these pictures and others like them is always the same: “awwwww.” Most of the pictures we get from him are from the app BeReal, giving us glimpses into his dorm, his friends, his professors, his rehearsals, his pie baking ability.

Tonight is his first college choir concert followed by an entire week off for fall break, and we’re all wondering why we didn’t bring him home. Instead he is getting three very special visitors – his best friends the twins from Fayetteville and his former Huck the Great Assistant Shannon from Austin. I am expecting pictures galore, and maybe a magic video or two.

We wish he was here; we wish we were there.

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It’s been seven hours and 42 days since we took our Huck away, and these last six weeks Troy and I have been falling apart together. Not because we miss Huck so much, though we do feel his absence in the silence of the dishwasher, shower, and washing machine and the strangely lower grocery bills, but because our 53 year old bodies have decided they need some attention. Troy’s got a bum ankle that can make him hobble around like a little old man, and I’m becoming his mysterious perimenopausal sidekick with a hint of hypochondria in this bittersweet comedic tragedy. In our worst moments these ailments hurt most when we walk, and between that and the loss of our favorite walking companions, we find ourselves in odd corners of the house doing random yoga moves and stretches. At least we still have our teeth and good spirits.

And of course we do miss Huck so much. Huck being in college is like having a crush on someone who can make your day complete by giving you the tiniest bit of attention. A text from Huck always elicits a squeal of delight from this mother; FaceTime with Huck is how I imagine winning a dinner with Bono would be. I can’t get enough details of his busy college life that’s filled with math classes, musical rehearsals, choir rehearsals, lots of caffeinated beverages, lots of homework, city bus trips to Target & Trader Joe’s, study groups, the occasional hanging out til 3am. Sometimes he gives us a heads up that he’s about to walk pass the webcam, which makes him the greatest child there ever was.

But old habits are hard to break; as I’m about to run the dishwasher there’s always a split second when I almost head toward Huck’s room to look for cups. As I empty my water bottle at the end of the day, there’s always a split second when I start to head toward Sunny’s water bowl. Last week we went to the FHS Homecoming Parade so we could get a glimpse of the choir float and Huck’s old friends. One of them good-naturedly yelled, “Where’s Huck?!” and I got that familiar lump in my throat while smiling and waving maniacally. Tonight we took Sunny’s remains to the yearly Blessing of the Animals at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and we took comfort in the loving words of St. Francis while happy dogs barked all around us.

Change and loss, pain and relief, grief, joy and FaceTime – the words that describe these days.