I guess I’m predictable. Sometimes, anyway. I’m all in my feelings about taking my baby girl to college at Cal Poly SLO in two days. Two more sleeps with us. One more sleep in her own bed in her own room. Then one night in a hotel in Pismo Beach, with us. We took the kids to Pismo a couple of times when they were little. We collected a bucket-full of sand dollars, in the early morning at Shell Beach. Cass has been my little surfer girl since birth. We rented wetsuits and boogie boards for all four of us and we wore our Speedo goggles like it was a swim meet. We rode the waves, even big mama. It was mortifying trying on wetsuits, by the way. I had to get a men’s XXL so my boobs would fit. They didn’t carry anything larger than that.
We went to the souvenir shop near the beach and bought mermaid necklaces. I’m partial to mermaids. I think Dylan got a silver whale tail.
We ate fish and chips from the cafe near the water and we had a beach picnic and we tried to keep the sand out of it, but the wind didn’t help. Me and the kids didn’t mind, though. Robbie was annoyed. He tried to cover his head with a newspaper to keep the wind from blowing on him while he ate. It didn’t work. You have never lived if you haven’t felt the grit of beach sand in your teeth from the squooshed homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a fold-over plastic baggie, found next to the can of Tab in the ice chest. Those were the good days, remember?
I don’t know if you have recognized yet how my brain works. All these thoughts and storylines cross-cross in my mind, one sliding door triggered by the last. Each memory is a fork in the road, a choose your own adventure to my life. Of course, there really was only ever one choice made, but those other paths were always there. The road less traveled, perhaps. Definitely not a straight line, A to B.
So one thought triggers a memory of my own. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I don’t get to choose what comes to mind. It just does. I’m all twisted up like a pretzel. A contortionist. But,
Don’t get it twisted.
My baby is leaving me. I am already practically an empty nester. I have already started skinny dipping at night in my backyard and walking around naked more often than necessary. That probably has more to do with my surgeries, to be real. Yes, I am scarred, in more ways than what you see on the surface. But I’m not ashamed to be alive anymore. And, I have found I don’t need anyone’s approval but my own. Learning.
This count down to blast-off is exciting and awful. We are busy with packing and washing and buying and breathing, just keeping the tears at bay. I only cried twice today. One was when we were on the way home from Costco, when I thought I should tell her that I’m trying to hold it together and that if I cry it’s not because I don’t want her to leave, even though I say that. I am so excited for her to go and design her own life, to make it just the way she wants it. I want her to go. I’m just sad to my core that childhood is over. I’m sad that I don’t have a reason to buy the big bucket of sidewalk chalk or replace the dried out playdoh. I’m sad no one will be playing dress-up while dancing to Dorothy the Dinosaur. A rump-bump-a-chump. I’m sad there’s no more soccer or little league games, or tacos in a bag from Dooley. I’m sad I don’t have a reason to get up at 05:30am on a Saturday, every weekend of the summer. Go, Stingrays. I’m really sad I don’t get to watch the badass chicks of CKM Waterpolo win the Championship ever again in my entire life. Like ever. Go, Lions.
Before I became a nurse, I did daycare. I had a licensed childcare in my home. It allowed me to stay home with my own children and still have money coming in to help to support our family. We had the perfect backyard and playroom set-up. I drove a Suburban so we could all go on field trips. We went somewhere everyday. To the park: Belle Coolege, Reichmuth, Land Park, Bertha Henshel, McKinley, Southside, and even that tiny one next to the cemetery in East Sac. I had an annual pass for the Zoo and Fairy Tale Town. My kids have a brick with their names on it on the yellow brick road, in the spiral in front of it. Their childhood set in stone, with Humpty Dumpty sitting watch. The Train Museum was just a little more special because we didn’t go there as often. I would take them to Capitol Aquarium to look at all the fishies, let Oscar chase them, and to feed the Koi. We would go to the amphitheater in Land Park and they would put on shows for me. We fed bread to the ducks, way back when it was still allowed. Those were the good ‘ol days. Days spent in my backyard, pre-swimming pool. We had a swing set that was shaped like a ship. My daycare parents pitched in to help pay for it, so I could get the bigger, better, fun one. I built that thing mostly by my myself, calling Robbie out to help only when it was something that took two of us, like attaching the monkey bars. It took two days of manual labor. A labor of love. I’m the MacGuyver around here, not him. Up at the top of the slide there was a telescope and a mast. A place for the Captain to steer the ship. Sail away on the S.S. Imagination, to where the wild things are. I’ll eat you up I love you so. Climb the ropes and walk the plank. That meant slide down. I had so many bright colors left over from when I painted Dylan’s Buzz Lightyear bedroom (that took me 3 weeks, BTW!) so I let the kids paint the swing set, all crazy colors, hand prints, foot prints, any way they wanted and we called it the S.S. Imagination. That swingset is long gone, but I saved the wooden board that I painted “S.S. Imagination” in orange. It hangs on my back fence, next to the metal railroad crossing sign.
We had a green plastic turtle sandbox and a metal Tonka dump truck. We had slip-n-slides and blow up swimming pools. We had a play kitchen under the shady trees where they played Top Chef and made mud pies with the metal IKEA pots and pans. We played hide and go seek and ring around the rosy. All fall down. Grant lost his tiny mousy sword somewhere and his mom came back with a metal detector to try and find it. It stayed lost. Forever.
We raised caterpillars into butterflies and Cass named one of them Golden Lemon Pucker Trucky Ducky. She cried out “goodbye, Golden Lemon Pucker Trucky Ducky,” as the yellow butterfly flew off beyond our trees. I think she was 3. That is a name I will never forget. Oh, and there was Cassidy’s imaginary friend named Cabbia Morrow that lived in the pink house around the corner from us. There was always a story about Cabbia Morrow, every time we drove past her house. She was a cool chick.
These are the things I think of when I’m sitting in the hot tub in my backyard, late at night all alone. In its latest form, this backyard saved me through the pandemic. Puerto Backyarda. Mi Casa es Mi Casa. And I will never regret putting the pool and hot tub in. But in its purest form, this backyard holds some of the best memories of my life. Time spent with not only my babies, but I was paid to sit on the grass and play with other peoples kids. The cool ones. The no drama, fun to be around, kind-hearted kids. The ones that laugh and sing. The ones whose parents were there to pick them up no later than 5:30. Dropped them no earlier than 07:30. Paid me generously on time and sometimes gave me bonuses. I was loved and treated with respect and I got to stay home. It was an excellent tax write-off. It was my privilege. And I am so grateful.
So you see, that’s why I’m sad it’s all over. It was so much fun to be that mama. To do it that way. I would do it all over again, like Groundhog Day.
The days are long, but the years are short.
Don’t get it twisted.