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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.


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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.

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Ten years ago we left New York for Fayetteville, and within a couple months we adopted Sunny. We’d been dog-less for four years, and Troy and I were more than ready to begin again. Huck was not so sure, but he knew this was not negotiable. We had planned on naming our new dog Banjo, but this Benji lookalike didn’t seem to fit. Huck suggested “Sunny” or “Lollipop,” and so we grabbed the first name and that was that. After a week or so of having Sunny in our family, Huck announced that she was the perfect dog for us. “I don’t like dogs and she doesn’t like kids!” Sad but true.

In a heartbreaking bit of timing, Sunny left us on August 28th, a week after we said goodbye to Huck. We had one very delightful decade with her full of joyful hikes and snuggles, and we miss her very much. She was scared of most every other human until they came with her on a walk, especially a hike when she was allowed to run free. So many family and friends over the years exclaimed, “She’s like a different dog out here!” As my best friend Shannon says, “I’ve never seen a happier dog off a leash than Sunny.”

Last Thursday evening Troy had a work event, and I texted Huck that I was about to go on my first solo walk around the neighborhood, as we are trying to continue exercising without our favorite companion. I set off, praying no one would ask me where my dog was, and Huck texted, “do you want to facetime on ur walk?” And so we did, and it was one of the most comforting things anyone has ever done for me.

Speaking of Huck, he’s one happy nerd. He says his math homework is SO FUN because it’s all puzzles and riddles and impossible problems that remind him of his workbooks as a child, only much harder. His French class is full of students who are fluent, which is scary and exciting for him. He just got cast in the non-theatre majors’ group Scotch ‘n Soda’s musical “Carrie” and begins rehearsals today. (Possibly the world’s first math major dabbling in musical theatre.) He and his friends made pie dough in the community kitchen last night. He’s taken the bus to Target for banana bread ingredients. He goes by his middle name Will at CMU, as he felt that sounded better than being known as “Huck from Arkansas.” A rowdy group of math majors had lunch together in a courtyard on Friday and ended up with post-its on their foreheads shouting passionately as they attempted to solve one of their bonus problems. He often sends me pictures of his meals, which are usually Indian.

As for me & Troy, we hardly run the dishwasher, we take great pleasure in the sight of hummingbirds in our back yard, and we live for texts from Huck. This morning Troy is taking down his once beautiful sunflowers, and we’re slowly accepting the gradual loss of our spring and summer beauty as we prepare for the glory of fall. And Huck’s Christmas visit.

August 27, 2013 – the day we brought Sunny home

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964 miles away, Huck texted that he was off to get some dinner last night, and I secretly pulled up the Carnegie Mellon web cam just in case I could get a glimpse of him as a college student walking across campus. And I am happy to report that Stalker Mom (as Troy just named me) succeeded! I would recognize that joyful gait (and super long hair) anywhere.

A week ago Huck began his new life in Pittsburgh, and Troy and I began to slowly fade into the background. A wise speaker congratulated us parents for no longer being our children’s problem solvers; now we were their advisors. “This is your life!” one of the slideshows exclaimed to the students. I could feel Huck’s heart pounding with excitement.

Two doors down from Huck’s very nice apartment-dorm is the TV studio where Mr. Rogers was filmed. Troy finds great comfort in this.

While away for five days, Fayetteville had quite the heat wave and we were worried about our flowers. Upon arrival home, we went to the back yard to assess the damage and were pleasantly surprised; the flowers needed water, but they weren’t as dead-looking as we feared. Most delightful of all was our hanging pot of million bells (calibrachoa), which were struggling even when watered daily. Before we left town Troy moved the pretty flowers to the shade, and five days later they looked better than ever with seemingly a million more yellow blooms. Left on their own, they thrived.

Hoping Huck is like the million bells.

Huck’s dorm – Residence on Fifth

The Last Supper

The Last Family Selfie

The Goodbye

The Web Cam

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I see you, innocent parents of brand new high school seniors. Your beginning and our beginning are somehow overlapping. Your children are entering their last year of high school while ours destroy their bedrooms in an attempt to empty them. You’re beginning to ask questions about senior pictures and college applications while we’re paying room and board and buying towels at T.J. Maxx. Yours are beginning a series of lasts while ours tries to make room in his fashionable, overly small wallet for his insurance, HSA, and voter registration cards. The other night I woke up in a cold sweat with this new idea: “He’ll need Command Strips!” That’s when you really know you’ve slid right off the deep end.

Today is Huck’s Final Fayetteville Day before we begin our drive to Pittsburgh in the morning. Ever loyal to his beloved high school choir program, he has a long to-do list that ends with section-leading at their first Thursday after school rehearsal of the year. This isn’t only because he’s an overly helpful person; it’s mainly because he gets to be a high school choir singer one last time before coming home to help load the car.

Leading up to this Last Day, there has been the purging of his massive tea collection and Apple product boxes (he has hoarder tendencies like his father), army roll video tutorials in an attempt to get all those shirts into suitcases, a Lana Del Rey concert, a surprise visit from Aunt Jeni, a family viewing of Heartstopper Season 2, lots and lots of time with friends, and a constant countdown to Sunday’s goodbye, which has been moved back to 4:30pm as if to torture mothers.

The first time Aunt Jeni visited Huck was when he was three weeks old, beginning a tradition that would last much longer (and with more lip syncs) than we could have ever imagined. I felt completely incompetent and embarrassed as I struggled to calm fussy Huck while my little sister patiently encouraged me, offering gentle ideas here and there until finally I began to relax. We were down by the Hudson River enjoying a quiet, peaceful walk when she said, “He’s really turned a corner,” which meant that I’d really turned a corner, which was the best thing I’d ever heard. So many more long, dark hallways to come, but still.

Here’s to all of us and our corner-turning and first days and last days and all the ones in between.

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First, a quote: “The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.” -Alden Nowlan

Second, a snippet: During one of our nearly daily summer drives to the Mount Sequoyah pool last Friday, I missed my turn and sadly said to passenger Troy, “Sorry. I was thinking of Sinead O’Connor.” To which he replied, “It’s okay. We all are.”

Third, a short story: Back when Sinead was first becoming famous, I was Huck’s age about to head off to college 84 miles away from home. My memories of that summer before I left are hazy – it was 35 years ago, after all – but I do remember feeling like my parents were being extra mean to me. My mom in particular, always so loving, was argumentative and accusatory all summer long. It finally came to a head one August day when she asked why I was packing up so much of my bedroom, and when I reminded her of the upcoming trip to Wichita State she cried, “I thought you were just going to college! I didn’t know you were moving out!” And though I was an innocent 18 year old, I knew enough about the world to understand that she was sad, not mad. And she was right; I never lived at home again after that move.

(And within a few days I’d meet 18 year old Troy, but that’s another story.)

Earlier this month my sister Jeni and I made a quick trip to that same house, and on the last evening we read letters we had sent to our parents long ago. One was written by my mom to me right before Huck was born. It was a pep talk, reminding me how strong I was and how much pain and then love I was about to feel. I considered taking the letter home with me – why did they have it anyway? – but decided I liked the idea of it mingling with letters I wrote in my twenties.

When our weekend ended, my mom and I headed south to get her back home, driving right by the Wichita State University exit we’d taken all those years ago, and I asked her if she had any advice for our upcoming trip to college. With Elvis playing on the radio, she agreed that it would be sad and told me to always put Huck first – more wisdom about the pain and love of parenthood. “He’ll miss you too,” she added. I asked if she remembered my last summer at home. Staring straight ahead she nodded and said with a hint of sadness, “You moved out.”

Huck and I have had our own summer of occasional turbulence, along with perfectly calm dorm shopping, dog walks, and dinners together now and then. I know enough about the world to understand that he’s ready for independence, and there’s no greater symbol against it than a Mommy. I represent everything he wants to leave behind, and I can earn angry lectures by accidentally asking if he’s had enough to eat or if he’s making enough money. But when he’s feeling tender and childlike, he asks for help composing a text to his roommate or setting up his new Discover card, sometimes asking if we can sit and talk, giving me a brief status boost during this awkward transition. I know he’s about to experience something that nothing so far in his life compares to, and Troy and I will take the back seat together and remember.

And a conclusion: I pulled up Carnegie Mellon’s move-in weekend schedule the other day and found this: “Families should say farewell by 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 20, when student Orientation sessions begin.” Then I played some Sinead O’Connor and started dinner.

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Huck loves sending me funny videos of young adults imitating their moms in various states of technological distress, and they almost always make me cringe-laugh. I asked him why it’s always moms who get made fun of in these videos, for surely dads of the same age are also making these same mistakes. Huck agreed that while it is unfairly slanted toward the moms, it’s because we’re  just so sweet and we try so hard.

Fast forward a few hours to me nearly ruining dinner because I once again couldn’t figure out how to un-shuffle my Hamilton playlist.

We moms and dads go through a lot of stages in our identities over the years, and it’s sad sometimes to remember how victorious we seemed to our babies and toddlers compared to how they see us now. Huck’s overly patient face and slightly judgmental eyes when I struggle to remember how to do something he recently taught me (like how to un-shuffle a playlist) are very reminiscent of that time I caught him writing on his comforter with a Sharpie. He knew better!

But nothing, and I mean nothing, can turn two perfectly educated adults into temperamental three year olds like an Apple remote that’s gone bad. “Just use your phones,” Huck told us. “It’s so easy.” No. No, it’s not easy. Don’t believe him. It’s the opposite of easy. This summer there have been many evenings with Troy and me in tears, saying things we shouldn’t have, raising our voices to the Apple gods if only they would please, please turn our iPhones into magical TV remotes. One particularly devastating night we sat down to watch “Succession” only to realize HBO Max was now simply “Max” and required a new app and password and other awful things that challenged our mental stability. We thought we’d finally made it and started to breathe normally again when we noticed that in all the hubbub closed captioning got turned off, seemingly forever. There is no way the two of us can hear an English language show without our subtitles, so I finally managed to croak the words: “Just get him. We’re in over our heads.” And there went Troy, highly respected member of the community, shuffling with his head down toward the always-closed bedroom door of our tech support from hell. Knock-knock. “Yes?” Huck said with a mix of cynicism and self-righteousness, no doubt having heard our cries and curses. Troy raised his head, found what little self-respect he had left, and courageously whispered, “Can you help us with our phones?”

Hoping he still offers his services remotely.