Freudian Foreshadowing



    They make it to the blog frequently enough so you probably get that I work with college kids (oops, I chastised one just the other day for using that term; I mean adults). And also that I like what I do. And that I like them (most of them, most of the time).

    
What may not be clear, however, is that I haven’t really been working with them all that long. In fact, my first batch of babies (adults) will be leaving this spring. Flying out of the nest, so to speak, off into the great beyond.




    And I have mixed feelings about their noteworthy transition.




    Many of my own friendships are older than these students I tutor, so I get that four years can be but a blimp in a relationship’s foundation. On the other hand, I’ve spent some serious “quality time” with these young adults. They’ve shared much with me. Way more than you’d think. Way more than I ever imagined they would.




    When I recently found out that a student of mine had cut class before she’d had a chance to fess up to me, I asked her if she would have been forthcoming with the info.




    “I tell you everything,” she said.




    And she just might.




    Not in the every-detail-of-every-day sort of tell, but in a kind that matters a whole lot more. She’s been through a lot in these past four years. And the thing is, I’ve been through most of it with her.

    
Now, she’s at the threshold of the other side -where she should be, where she deserves to be.




    She’s arrived with grace and resilience and I’m proud of her and who she is today. I am proud of my other students, as well. They’ve turned from teenagers to adults, and as they graduate, they seem to be truly prepared for the next phase of their lives.




    I’m happy for them.




    I’ll also be sad to see them go.




    Changing the subject (not really).




    I’ve been, on occasion, technically challenged. The combination of an utter lack of knowledge about what it exactly is that runs the computers that run most of our lives and a sometimes senseless sense of speed are  often a poor mix. 

    
Case in point.




    I don’t delete the emails and text messages most normal people might. There’s a history here which I won’t go into. Anyway, among the non-deleted text messages on my cell phone were a few (several) from my students.

    
The messages weren’t left merely to clutter the inbox; they’d been intentionally undeleted.




    And then, in a too quick moment of parsing the list, I said yes when I didn’t mean to and every message was gone.




    Poof!




    I wonder how long they would have remained, had I not make the mistake.




    I don’t know. But now they’re gone –for good.
    
    
And soon too, will be the kids who texted them.




    Because they are ready, perhaps even more than I am, to separate. From their school, from their roommates and college friends -and from me.




Firefly Light

firefly light   I’ve been going about it all wrong.

    I keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, some blazing sure sign that everything’s going to work out for the kids I know.

    As if life comes with that sort of guarantee.

    It doesn’t.

    Instead of allowing myself to be engulfed by the darkness, then, maybe I need to embrace a little night vision. As if I’m stepping in from the blinding white of snow, perhaps all it requires is an adjustment of perspective.

    Because the light is there, even if I can’t always see it.

    So I’m going to start looking for small flashes of light -from wherever they may come.

    When my student agrees to lay off the partying for awhile and seems to be following through, there’s a blink of light. And when I see the little girl who clung to her mommy’s leg as if she were gripped there with adhesive, now self-advocate as a teenager –again, I see that spark of light.

    My son’s hits of light may seem more moth-to-fame to his mother. Maybe with Michael it’s a little more difficult because he’s mine. Too many of the traits that frequently frustrate are those which are also too familiarly my own.

    But still there are flickers.

    Even if I sometimes have to be reminded when they occur.

    When I recently started a story with my sister-in-law, “Michael and I had a conversation-“ she stopped me mid-sentence. She wanted me to note it for the pleasant anomaly that it was.

    We had a conversation.

    They’re fairly infrequent. And should be appreciated.

    I might have missed it for the glimmer of light that it was.

    So here-on-in, I’m looking for light, however brief and undramatic. It likely won’t hit with lightning bolt clarity; I’ll have to pay attention.

    I’m not going to look to be bedazzled by the ten thousand degree flash from a star. Instead, I’ll lay in wait for those pinpricks of light, like the eye-catch of white that comes with firefly flight.

    So when Michael exits the car and leans in to give me a kiss on the cheek as if it’s still habit, I’ll note the spark. But I’ll also remind myself not to reach out for the flutter of light, lest I risk dousing the flame and turning it to ash.

 

Pay It Forward


    I’m translating her advice into my words: better to do something more than you should, than to not do enough.


    And so I blame Kelley, in part, when I perhaps did again –more than I should have.


    Because it’s still good advice.


    I think.


    I’ve been warned to the contrary.


    Kelley and I both have been scolded for being “too nice.”


    Sometimes -maybe.


    Not such a horrible moniker, though, is it?


    Kelley is also one who tells me frequently that I’m doing just what I was meant to do. Finally. With the whole writing thing, of course, but also at the little college where I play life coach and tutor to semi-adults trying to navigate through their lessons and their lives. And it’s in this setting where I inch too close to that more-than-you-should.


    I don’t care.


    I can handle the consequences of too-much much better than I can the what-ifs which arise from not doing enough.


    My guess is that the roots to the philosophy go pretty deep.


    Our holiday dinners offer apt metaphor. You might see it all as too much food; I see it as always enough. No chance of us running out of anything –ever.


    And you gotta love the leftovers.


    Maybe human interactions can also result in the spillover of thoughtfulness, with ample to share.


    So when I do for my students –even if admittedly more than I should- I don’t look for payback in reciprocal reward. I don’t really require return on an investment of kindness.


    Maybe what I hope for, though, is a sharing of leftovers.


    Paying it forward.


    It wasn’t a literary gem or a blockbuster movie. But what a blockbuster message. And so simple.


    But the concept was ingrained in me as ideology long before the book’s publication. I think because there was always that lesson of reciprocity. You were given a gift, you gave one in return. You were invited to dinner, you invited in kind.


    But when the deed was immeasurable –and the thank you a trifle for its intended worth, the return impossible, how to repay?


    Not.


    So then to the answer of paying it forward.


    Not a bad responsibility with which to shoulder a younger friend.


    Or legacy to leave in the corner of one’s life.


    So if I do for them, perhaps they’ll do for someone else –some day.


    Maybe.


    I don’t know.


    I get a lot from these young adults I’ve come to know too well.


    I’m not entirely sure what.


    It doesn’t matter.


    I know I teach them a bit, too.


    I wonder, though, if they’ll understand the lesson of leftovers if I leave it to instinct instead of instruction. When they’re out in the world, as real grownup adults, will they intuitively sense an ongoing obligation when it’s their turn to act in kind, and in kindness?




A Not Guilty Jury


    The thing is –she’s guilty.


    But I get it, I really do.


    The jury foreman said that the State didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Juror number two further insisted that even though she and her fellow jurors didn’t put much credence in the defense counterarguments, the ultimate verdict wasn’t at all about the defense. It was about a lack of prosecutorial evidence.


    And so they had no choice but to acquit.


    A few years ago, I was on a jury.


    Before you offer your condolences or tips on how to evade service next time, I should be upfront: when I was tapped, I actually wanted to serve.


    Save your groans –my opinion has changed.


    However, back then I bought into the notion of jury duty as civic obligation. In that pre-jury service world I inhabited, it was a chance for me to be a real participant in the legal system, to see its inner workings, to contribute, hands-on.


    But jury duty jaded me –big time.


    First, our guy was guilty. Absolutely, no doubt in my mind -he not only raped her, but was damned sure he’d get away with it. He and his victim were in the country illegally and he probably figured she’d be too fearful of deportation to point a finger. He figured wrong. She pointed. He ran -out of country.


    Eleven years later, as a legal U.S. resident, she spotted her attacker back on a city street and yelled rape –again. This time, he couldn’t run. She demanded justice.


    Instead, she got us.


    I wish she hadn’t.


    At one point or another during deliberations, six or seven of us voted to convict.


    And then we deadlocked.


    The judge urged us to try again to render a verdict.


    In her entreaty to us, what struck a particular chord with me was the notion that if we were unable to do our job, somebody else would have to do it. Another set of twelve would go through what we were going through. Witnesses would be recalled, the defendant would likely be held while he awaited a new trial. And the victim would relive her ordeal yet again. None of that was okay.


    The underlying point that kept surfacing throughout our deliberations was that the State hadn’t fully proven its case.


    I didn’t care.


    We garnered quite a bit of backstory during our week of jury service and all that stuff we were supposed to ignore –I couldn’t. He did it and I didn’t care that the State hadn’t done its job well.


    I’ve always believed in the overall integrity of our judicial system. And in the principle that it’s better to let a guilty defendant go free than to imprison an innocent one.


    In theory.


    But then I was confronted with the reality of a young girl, new to the country, scared and alone. And all the black and white tenets of our legal system muddled to gray and seemed just an impediment to the truth. I wanted justice for this girl, punishment for her attacker.


    Our foreman kept reminding us that a not guilty verdict shouldn’t be construed as a finding of innocence.


    I’m sure that would have been of little solace to the victim.


    I wasn’t in the room during the Casey Anthony trial, but I can relate to the frustration the jurors must have felt. Still, I look to the sweet picture of a little girl and want justice for her –and punishment. I don’t blame the jury and I could never align myself with the nuts now threatening their lives. They had a job to do and I am certain they took seriously their obligations. But I, for one, would have quickly forgiven them had they ignored the letter-of-the-law and chosen, with that angel’s face in mind, to follow their hearts instead of their heads.

Roller Coasters


    I used to like roller coasters.



    Ups and downs, twists and turns, even upside downs.




    And I’d often do the exit runaround to get back on and ride again, from a different seat -to get another perspective, a different experience.

    
It was all fun.




    Not anymore.




    Because the roller coaster on which I’m now stuck is way bumpier than any I experienced as a kid. It’s a white-knuckled ride with metal-screeching hairpin turns, plummeting downward spirals, and careening ricochets of off rickety lattice work of questionable stability.




    And its driver isn’t a qualified computer with a vacant-stare carnival worker at the controls. Rather, at the helm is a sleepy-eyed teen, without benefit of technology or any industrial safety standards. Captained by the horrors of hormonal flux and teen angst, this ride is unlike any other. Although perhaps universally experienced, it’s still unfamiliar to me; I’m not sure where and when the curves come, and I can’t see what’s around the next corner. Space Mountain meets Hotel California, where blindness rules and you can check out any time you like, but you can’t get off the damn ride.




    The only sure thing about my ride is the inconsistency of its terrain. Conditions change not merely day-to-day, but hour-to-hour, minute-by-minute. And although I know I’m not alone, it often feels as if I’m riding solo on the front car, headed for a wall.

    
The thing is I always used to believe that the highs were worth the lows –it’s why we ride in the first place. A bit of anticipation, a flood of excitement, and then a gentle pull into a sunlit station. Now, I’m looking at the kiddie rides with longing. And at those sad and staid skyview gondolas that take in the whole park with a bird’s eye view –from a safe distance. What’s wrong with getting the story from afar?




    Lots, I know. 
    



    But still, it would be nice to occasionally forgo the up-close-and-personal viewpoint.

    
But of course, it is my fault.




    It was my choice to hop on the ride, after all. Not just by having kids, but also by forging a relationship that was different from the one my parents had with me. Honesty, involvement. Not answering their questions with because I said so

    
What was I thinking?

    
Because I said so seems a perfectly acceptable answer to me now. Seriously, it’s not like he answers my questions. Monosyllabic murmurings and grunts are more the norm. This from the kid who came wired for sound straight from the womb. Non-stop chatter was the white noise of my life from our earliest engagement. Now, I’d welcome that staticky repetition of mom, mom, mom, as he tried to get my attention for answer to the query of the moment or to include me in the latest of his world discoveries. Back then, it was as if my input was vital fuel for the exploding synapses of his brain. Now, the less input from me, the better.




    This too shall pass.




    If one more person offers up that sage bit of fortune cookie wisdom   -aargh!




    Because just as it does seem ready to pass, the ride hits its skittering stride and plummets to a new depth. And at the next curve, I wonder  -is this where we skid entirely off track?
 
    
And don’t tell me that I’m going to look back at these days with some sort of revisionist reminiscing that turns all the turmoil into fond memory.




    NOT.




    More likely, I’ll look back and wonder how the hell did I survive the ride at all??

Friend Me


    I think Hallmark may have hyped the notion of friendship a bit too much.

    
Inflated the premise and oversold its availability to the masses.

    
Or maybe it was those afterschool specials and sappy sitcoms.




    Or the mean girl movies in which good prevailed and true friends stood solid.

    
Something has given our kids a misguided view of where they’ll find real friends and just what they’ll look like.

    
Perhaps the culprit is Facebook –so much else is blamed on the social networking site.




    Eight hundred and eighty-three friends -Seriously?

    
I used to cringe when my husband came home from a business meeting referring to his friends in attendance.




    Those aren’t friends- they’re business associates,
I would practically shout every time.

    
And I was often surprised at the reaction of those newly moved to town who were disappointed by the no-entry cliques that were too reminiscent of high school for my liking. I was never really sure why the newbies wanted in to the select town circles. Did they really think those people jockeying to get their own kids on the best soccer teams were going to pull another’s kid along?

    
One of my students was recently disappointed by her so-called friends. After what she saw as a betrayal, she said she was now going to trust no one.

    
Ouch.




    In talking her off the ledge, I assured her that this new philosophy was extreme.




    And then I delved a bit into just what her expectations of her friends were. But before I reached that bar, I had to ask –who she considered to be her friends? How many did she have? And the question which spoke more to my own philosophy than hers –how many exactly did she think she deserved?

    
I brokered my own response before she had a chance to answer. If you can count your close friends on a single hand, consider yourself lucky, I told her.

    
She is lucky. And she knows this. And she also acknowledges that she was perhaps misguided to label every acquaintance on even a small college campus as friend. Because not every project partner or kindred classmate is a friend. Tight living quarters don’t make tight friendships. And slurpy sentiments proffered at local bars are often forgotten before the sticky floors have been mopped dry.  

    
My daughter’s been tricked too many times by the illusion of friendship. At 21, I think she’s finally getting a sense of what she needs from the people in her life. And just how much she’s willing to give in return. Her foundation of friendship rests, in part, on membership in a sorority. When she first considered joining, I have to admit I wasn’t entirely on board. It wasn’t just the what-would-I-do voice in my head; it was that other, much louder voice of parental caution. She’d been hurt before –by girls- and the thought of such a large assemblage of them struck me as that many more chances for pain.




    I was wrong.

    
Theta Phi Alpha has given Alex the friends she missed out on in high school. And I think they may be true friends. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s what she believes that counts here. Time will tell. Alex has always been quick to jump into new friendships, but quick also to abandon them when they didn’t measure up. In Theta Phi, loyalty is a requirement of membership. 

    
My student is under no such contractual obligation to give her own friends a second chance.




    But she will.




    Or at least she will to those who now fit her narrower construction of the word.




    She doesn’t know it yet, but that definition is likely to grow narrower still.




    Because I’m that old, I’ve had friendships as old as my student. And I can vouch for the genuineness of them because they’ve stood the test of time. I could teach her much about what constitutes a true friend.

    
But I won’t.




    She’ll figure it out -she’s smart. Although it isn’t often one’s intellect that speaks most loudly where matters of the heart are concerned. And a true friendship is indeed its own sort of love affair. In fact, most friendships last longer than love affairs; many outlast marriages.  

    
So while I’ll pass on giving advice on the girls in my student’s life, I will tell her that when she’s choosing a boy to try seeing first if he measures up as a friend. Because not only is that a great place to start, it’s also not a bad place to end.

There’s No Such Thing As Normal


    I suspect that my 20-year-old self would be aghast at the notion that this other version of me would pine for just plain old normal. Boring, even.




    Ahhh –how time does play with the perceptions of life.




    Once upon a time I had no idea of the twists and turns one’s journey could take. Now, I understand all too clearly that a world view can easily be skewed by the prisms of a differing  vantage point.




    I love the Whoopi Goldberg quote –Normal is in the eye of the beholder.




    How true.




    I also love when the young people with whom I work and live try to tell me of the oh-so-out-there exploits of their friends and families.




    Because I often think, OMG –you have no idea.




    There are secrets in every family and fold. And there are stories that veer so far from normal that I wonder of the word’s constraints. I looked up its origin –made in accordance to a carpenter’s square- and thought to the confining nature of squares and boxes. No wonder so many of us don’t fit to normal. It’s a shame that too many of us pretend we do.




    A little crazy is a good thing.




    The campus on which I work and the community in which I live both squeak a little too loudly with that hollow echo of normalcy. Pretty houses, pretty people. Good kids, good grades. Standards and squares. Lots of squares.




    Yikes –how did I end up here?




    And what ever made me think that this idyllic setting would be such an ideal one for me and my family?




    Michael could look and act just like all the other kids. If he chose to. He doesn’t.




    I would love to fully support his conscious efforts at non-conformity, his unique view of the world and of himself. I want to high-five his many talents and the philosophical bent that assures me that just because he’s not going about it my way, doesn’t mean he won’t eventually get to where he’s meant to be. I want to remain his number one fan, cheerleader, the one who “gets” him more than anyone else.




    But he makes it hard. Really hard.




    It’s not just the disdain with which he often showers me. Or that his teen angst can explode like messy carnage.




    It’s more the gravity pull of expectations. My own and those of others. And it’s because without the rose-colored glasses I may once have worn, it’s hard not to see the doors he’s closing around him. With clear-eyed vision, it’s too easy to think of wasted time and talent, of lost potential. It’s frustrating and discouraging –even sad.




    Normal would be easier.




    Even if I don’t believe in it.




    I have seen behind the curtains of those picture-perfect windows where dysfunction functions in disguise. And I know the outward reflection can be pleasantly distorting. But not at all real. And I think real is better.




    And Michael is, if not anything else, real. And honest. Beguilingly, candidly, painfully honest. He’s also bright and funny and capable.




    The parent of one of his friends recently made it a point to offer a positive picture of my son.




    He’s a good boy,
she said.




    Well, that’s something.




    When parents of today are queried about what they want for their children, the go-to response is that they want them to be happy.




    I do, too. Of course I do. I want him to pursue his dream, to find something fulfilling to do with his life. I want him to be happy.




    But I also want him to be a good person, a man of whom he –and his family- can be proud.




    We have a bit of a family joke when it comes to the young men who pursue my daughter, that they often look good on paper.




    I see a lot of kids on campus and in town. Most of them look good on paper. And some of them are good kids, good people. But some of them are only the ink of their resumes and not its heart. And quite a few of them willingly tilt their “honest” answers to fit the questions and the questioner. It’s probably why I so appreciate it when one or another will quite candidly state that no, they didn’t bother to read the assignment or attend the class. My favorite assessment came from a student who when asked about a poor grade he’d been given by an oft-maligned professor, admitted –it wasn’t her fault. I deserved the grade. An honest answer –a good boy.   




    So when Michael declines to answer a prodding question of mine because he says he doesn’t want to lie, I back off. At the base of the man I hope for him to become I want there to be a solid foundation of honesty. With the often earthquake activity in our pretty house, at least I am  -so far- still assured of his one true beginning.