Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's Left Behind (Day Nine)

Yesterday was Day Nine of the Kids-At-Camp-Mom-Not program. Ideal day to chill some white wine. It was, after all, a Monday.

Don't judge me.

So I swing by The Wine Shop (truly, that’s the name of the business -- The Wine Shop) for a bottle of my fave sauvignon blanc. So far, so good.

Once home, I open the fridge to realize that there is zero room for wine. I can't jam in a single sprightly bottle of New Zealand’s finest. (Since I’m the type to plan ahead, I’d been hoping to chill two.) I’m dumbfounded. What gives?

Well, even though Darling Daughter and Snarky Son have been away for over a week, it appears they left mementoes, including such oddities as a one-gallon 1% organic milk jug holding nothing but the dried film of 1% organic milk, a space-hogging plastic gallon container encapsulating less than half a gallon of Gatorade, a two-liter bottle of Cherry Sprite holding two liters of Cherry Sprite less two sips, a two-quart Rubbermaid bowl of two-week-old Sausage Pasta (click here for recipe), four jars of assorted jams and jellies (notable because my kids don’t like jams or jellies), and inexplicably, two packages of Oscar Mayer Steakhouse Beef and Pepper Jack Deli Creations.

Say what?

Being the thoughtful kids they are, they wouldn’t dream of confining the treasured reminders of their existence to the fridge alone. Nope. After they left for camp, dirty laundry paved their bedroom floors, candy wrappers cluttered the dressers and plastic cups of Coke sludge could be found on the windowsills. “Sludge” of course, is what remains after the popular soft drink has roasted in a windowsill for 10 days. The resulting residue has the "stickability" factor of day-old chewing gum combined with Super Glue served to a patient with lockjaw. Never mind that neither kid is allowed to have food or drink in their rooms. Whatevs.

I’ve also found countless random price tags – ripped from items such as wind pants, sunglasses and other essential items that they just “had to have” before heading to camp, unopened bottles of sunscreen which were cast aside as unnecessary, as well as the flotsam and jetsam dislodged from their lockers at the end of the school year.

Hmm. Time to make good use of some 13-gallon plastic kitchen garbage bags. Because even now, as the kids are at camp, they are sending reinforcements home. But this time, I’m not complaining, because the reinforcements are in the form of envelopes containing the most precious items of all – letters home.

Sigh. I love these kids.

I can't even begin to pretend to be annoyed by their mail. In fact, it was fortuitous that I wasn't home when Mike The Mailman came by with the precious papers. I likely would've kissed him square on the lips.

What I learn from the kids' letters is that each of them is fabulous, fine and funny. Snarky Son, inexplicably, has been re-named “Brad” by his cabinmates. In the event that “Brad” doesn’t take, “Drake” is the name-in-waiting. Darling Daughter, who’s never been to a camp like this, declares that everything is fabulous, -- the activities, the friends, the counselors, the sleep and most shocking of all – the FOOD. She would, however, like me to send her a Crazy Creek chair. Whatever that is.

On the other hand -- fabulous food? Sign me up.

But first, I want to make room in the fridge here at home. I trash the empty milk jug, the outdated Gatorade, the unloved Cherry Sprite and two of the jam jars. Perfect. I now have ample space to chill three bottles of Sauvignon Blanc and some seedless watermelon. Which is just what I'll need to get started on some Watermelon Sangria for the Independence Day weekend.

Watermelon Sangria
2 cups of seedless watermelon puree (just toss chunks of watermelon in a blender or food processor)
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup watermelon schnappes
1/2 cup sugar
10 peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 knob fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 cup ginger ale, chilled
1 bottle sauvignon blanc, chilled
kosher salt

Combine watermelon puree, vodka, schnappes, sugar, peppercorns, ginger and lime in a lidded container. Shake or stir to dissolve sugar, and chill -- at least four hours, or better still, overnight. After flavors have melded, stir in chilled ginger ale and wine, strain into stemmed glasses with ice. Sprinkle with salt and garnish -- either with lime wheels, watermelon wedges or (for Independence Day) blueberries. Cheers!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The 12-Pound Man Of The House

It appears that I am now blogging-by-request, which I imagine is just like blogging-for-pay, except, well, I am not being paid.

The client, in this instance, would Darling Daughter. (And let’s be honest, she could well afford to compensate me. She has more cash than anyone else in the house.) DD has pointed out, with great distress, that I’ve blogged about everybody Chez Wiles – including our rescue dog Josie, who's only been with us for four months – except Lionel, our hefty 12-pound orange tabby cat.

My bad. It was clearly an oversight, as Lionel is unquestionably the most popular, most indulged, most demanding, best-fed, best-groomed and perhaps, best-looking, member of our household. (This last is absolutely true, but I say “perhaps” to avoid hurting the feelings of my own offspring, who are good-looking indeed.)

When the kids’ friends ring the front bell, I know what to expect. They barely blurt out a “Hello Mrs. Wiles” before looking past me, eyes darting anxiously and asking, “Where’s Lionel?” They know Lionel’s favorite foods – blue cheese, olives (green and black), salad dressing and shrimp. And they know how to get Lionel to come running – the sound of the crushed ice dispenser does it every time.

Self-proclaimed “dog people” routinely say, “You know, I don’t usually like cats, but Lionel is OK.“ Even our mailman, Mike, has a soft spot for Lionel and knows that, despite the cat’s protestations, Lionel is an indoor cat. Indeed, everyone who’s ever come to visit knows Lionel’s an indoor cat, because throughout day, I chant, "You’re an indoor cat, you’re an indoor cat, you’re an indoor cat," as I foil our feline’s ongoing escape efforts, snatching his scruff before he squeezes out a cracked door.

I have no delusions about Lionel's feelings for me. He may count on me for food and clean litter boxes. He may rely on me for brushing and stroking and a warm spot in bed. However, if I ever took a tumble down the stairs and were knocked out, I wouldn't be surprised to be missing few fingers when I regained consciousness. I’m not passing judgment. The cat's a hunter and I’d be fair game.

To look at Lionel, you’d never guess how much fight is in him. He’ll take on any challenger, regardless of size. I’ve never – not one time -- seen him turn and run – not from the dog, not from a 14-year old boy who once tried to position him on a ceiling fan, and not from the most nefarious of villains – the electric razor. This last, we can’t understand. We just know that the sound of an electric razor causes Lionel to rear up on his hind legs and prepare to strike, cobra-like, at the offensive facial hair remover. As you’d imagine, this is the best party trick going at the Wiles' house.

A cat with such a contentious disposition should have mangy fur, snaggle teeth, a torn ear, and perhaps, an eye patch. But Lionel, bless his heart, has limpid green eyes, a tiny, pale pink tongue, and unusually long and well-groomed fur touchable as mink. (OK. I’ve never actually felt mink, but I imagine it to be exceptionally soft. Am I right?)

Lionel doesn’t have the vocal prowess to make demands, either. His attitude – particularly the mane of fur surrounding his face – might lead you to expect a roar, but when irritated, disrupted, or simply needing attention, his pupils widen and darken, his mouth stretches open wide, and a pathetic, eunuch-like “mew” slips out. Occasionally, he even “chirps.” But we don't dare call him a "sissy." He prowls the house while we sleep. Taunting would be foolhardy.

Indeed, just to ensure my own good night's sleep tonight. I may have to slip a couple of shrimp his way. This casserole recipe for shrimp and grits is a good place to start. (And while it's cooking, I'm going to check DD's room for cash. I think she owes me.)

Shrimp & Grits Casserole
Great at breakfast, or for supper.

4 c. chicken broth
6 green onions, chopped
1 c. regular grits
1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 c. (4 oz.) shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
1 c. (4 oz.) shredded Jack cheese with peppers
2 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb. small shrimp, peeled and cooked
1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies, drained

Bring chicken broth to a boil in large saucepan; stir in grits. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in Monterey Jack cheese and 3/4 cup of cheddar. In a separate skillet, melt butter; add green onions, bell pepper and garlic. Saute five minutes, or until tender. Stir green onion mixture into grits. Add shrimp and tomatoes. Pour into a lightly greased 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.

Can be prepared the day ahead and refrigerated. Adjust cooking time (since grits will be cold) as needed. Serves 6-8.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Could I Have Phantom Kid Syndrome?

Today is Day One of the Kids-At-Camp-Mom-At-Home experiment, and I’ve got to confess, there have already been a few glitches. Not with the kids -- you can be sure they are fabulous and achieved the “Mom who?” stage within minutes of my departure yesterday. Nope -- I’m the old dog who can’t learn new tricks.

To my credit, after waking up at 5:30 this morning, I did remember that it is summer, so I knew I could burrow back down for another hour or so of nightmares about my 14-year-old-son driving. Before dozing off to those chilling images, though, I got up to look in on the kids, who natch, weren’t there. Oops.

When I woke back up at 7:00a, with sunlight lasering into the room and Lionel (the feline alarm clock) clawing at my toes, it seemed like a perfect day to support my local Starbucks. (True. Any day is the perfect day for a 'Bux outing.) Darling Daughter is also a fan, so I decided to treat my girl to a carton of her fave – vanilla milk.

Double oops. And I don't drink milk. Think it’ll keep for four weeks? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure it wouldn't survive the shipping.

Medical experts say that some amputee patients have sensations, including pain, in a limb that is no longer there. Phantom limb syndrome is what it’s called, I believe. I’m no doctor -- I don't even play one on TV -- but I think I may have phantom “kid” syndrome. They’re no longer here, but to me, it feels as if they are. To make matters more real, I’m considering going upstairs right now and flipping on the lights in Snarky Son’s bathroom and bedroom. Later tonight, when I go back upstairs, I’ll yell down, “Get up here right now and turn off these lights!” And I’ll get the same response as if SS were here. Crickets.

But we (the royal feline and I) are working it out. We’ve got plans. Big plans. OK. Lionel’s plans are actually the same as always: Eat, yawn, sleep, stalk. Repeat. On occasion, act indignant.

I, however, have compiled an absurdly long and ridiculously hopeful To Do List. Come on, now. What makes me think I can wire and install a ceiling fan by myself? Or clean out and organize the attic in 95 degree heat?

Making matters more ridiculous, I foolishly continue tacking items onto The List. Think I can wallpaper the bathroom tomorrow? I've never wallpapered so much as a shoebox. Write a novel in three weeks? Um. These one page blogs pretty much max me out.

I’ll have more to occupy myself in the next day or so, though, when I can commence stalking my own prey: Mike the Mailman. Seeing as how SS attended camp last year, Mike already knows the drill. Before he even gets to my yard (where I wait impatiently on the front steps), he’ll shout out, “No letter today, Cheryl!” Or, “You got two, today, Cheryl!” (“Cheryl” is the name on all of my bills. I’ve never had the heart to tell him I’m only called that when I owe someone money. Or am in trouble. Or both.)

I’m hopeful about receiving letters this week. And I have reason to be. As the kids and I made the trek to camp, I beseeched, coerced, and ultimately, bribed them to write home. We struck a deal at one dollar per well-written letter. BTW, a note that begins, “Dear Mom, Camp is great” does not pass the “well-written” test. Nor does any letter with “Dear Mom, Please send me …” as its auspicious opener. Writing BIG does not qualify as writing WELL, either.

In fact, until I get a letter, I think I'm going to disregard The List. I'll consider it my own form of protest. Kind of like a hunger strike, except there's no way I'm going to let myself go hungry. With the kids away, I can cook whatever I want -- just for me -- starting with this tangy, crispy Mexican chopped salad.

Mexican Chopped Salad with Spicy Butttermilk Lime Dressing

Dressing (Note: I like my dressing thin, but if you like it thicker, use more sour cream and a bit less buttermilk.)
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
juice of 1 lime (at least 1 tablespoon)
1 cup buttermilk
fresh ground pepper

1/2 avocado, cut in 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup diced jicama
1/2 of a 15-ounce can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) rinsed and drained
kernels cut from one raw cob of corn (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 pound shrimp, sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, grilled or seared in a hot skillet
romaine heart, chopped

Make dressing. Stir together sour cream and mayonnaise until smooth. Using butcher knife, mince garlic with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, to make a paste. Scrape garlic paste into sour cream mixture, and stir in cayenne pepper and lime juice. Stir in buttermilk. Season with additional salt and fresh ground pepper as needed. Chill for at least an hour or overnight, to allow flavors to meld and mellow.

Compose salad. On a bed of chopped romaine, arrange remaining ingredients, topping with the warm shrimp. Pour dressing (as needed) over.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Making A List, Then Making White Sangria.

I am a list-making kind of girl. (One thing on The List, BTW, is deciding how much longer I can refer to myself as a girl.)

I make grocery lists, packing lists, to-do lists, to-call lists, to-read lists, to-write lists and long-range planning lists.

Some lists are temporary, scribbled on Post-Its, cash register receipts, gas company envelopes, and 5" x 5" notes with my name printed across the top in a brown font peculiarly similar to my own handwriting.

Other lists are longer lasting -- team rosters, upcoming home repairs (ranked according to priority), and the kids' "Before You Even Ask" chore lists -- all of which I keep on the Mac. Every summer, we also maintain, on my iPhone, a list of the state license plates (including Canadian plates, because, well, you know ...) we come across. In alphabetical order, of course. Vanity plates don't count. When we're really road-weary, we track inappropriate bumper stickers, too.

The need to note appears to be genetic -- or at least contagious. I find bullet points scrawled on bits of notebook paper and old test papers on the bedside table of one of my beloved children. I won't say which one. I wouldn't want to embarrass him.

When I was married, I kept two other mental lists -- things I knew how to do, such as cooking, managing the family finances and getting the gutters cleaned, and things I didn't need to know how to do, such as taking out the trash, buying car tires and deciding how much to contribute to a 401K.

Now, of course, I do it all. And, as the mom of the house, I've got an entire lineup of things that only I know how to do. Just a few items on that capacious list include:

Load into the dishwasher dishes other than my own plate and utensils. Need I elaborate? "I didn't even use that spoon. That was his knife! Grody!"

Turn a blind eye -- for longer than 30 seconds -- to an incoming text message. Sorry. Was that your phone? Or mine?

Remember that wet towels hang on the rack, dirty clothes go in the hamper, and clean clothes should -- gratefully -- be put away. This is a toughie, but we're working on it. And have been for over 10 years.

Re-fill toilet paper and paper towel holders. Both kids know where to find the necessary paper products, but only seem able to perch said products on top of said holders. I know, right? Unwrap. Slide on. Tah. Dah.

Use the garbage disposal. This one's a mystery. The people who live here seem to understand the concept (putting uneaten scraps of food, i.e., garbage, into the sink), but somehow, there's a disconnect that prevents them from actually turning on the disposal, thus disposing of the remains. I really have nothing more to say about it. Nothing, that is, that doesn't involve me biting the inside of my lower lip. And sighing. And rolling my eyes.

Clean up -- or even cover up -- any sort of pet "accident." No need for a adjectives here, right?

Take a telephone message. If you've called me -- ever -- and I wasn't the one to answer the phone, I apologize. Sincerely. Rest assured. I didn't get the message.

On my Summer List is coming up with a recipe for White Sangria. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of my Red Sangria recipe, but summer cries out for something lighter. Or, at the very least, something else. And poor me, since summer offers such an abundance of flavors, I've got two versions in the works. Here's the first.

White Sangria #1

1/2 cup peach schnappes
1/2 cup white rum
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup sliced strawberries (plus additional for garnish)
1 cup diced pineapple (plus additional for garnish)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, sliced in thin ribbons.
5 peppercorns, lightly crushed

1 bottle sauvignon blanc, chilled (Note: If you choose a less "tart" wine, like a pinot grigio, you'll need to add 1/2 a sliced lemon and 1/2 a sliced lime to the fruit listed above.)
1 cup ginger ale, chilled

In a refrigerator container (with lid), mix rum, schnappes and sugar. Stir in fruit, mint and peppercorns. Chill in refrigerator several hours, or even better, up to three days.

When ready to serve, pour chilled wine and Sprite into a large pitcher. Stir in fruit and rum mixture.

Strain and serve over ice, garnishing with additional fresh fruit.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Settling Into Summer Routines -- Or A Lack Thereof. With Ribs.

School's out.

Not, as Alice Cooper eventually proclaimed, "forever," but at least "for summer."

I know this, first, because there are two additional, oversized bodies bumping around the house, each dividing his or her time equally between foraging for food; dwindling the charge on my MacBook; carpeting the floors with soggy towels and P.E. clothes which haven't seen the inside of a washing machine since before Christmas; misplacing my MacBook after the draining the battery; planning, scrapping, then re-planning social outings; and finally, in the ongoing quest for sustenance, begging to be taken off-premises -- to Harris Teeter, Smoothie King or Chick-Fil-A -- for still more food.

Second, I know school's out because both of my beloved and believed-to-be-bright children has already had the audacity to whine, "I'm bored." Silly them. As if there isn't always dog poop to be scooped and kitty litter boxes to be sifted.

Even more audacious, each of them, separately, has protested indignantly, "What difference does it make if I leave my wet towels (dirty laundry, Jolly Rancher wrappers, backpack contents, fill-in-the-blank) on the floor? It's summer! Why do you care so much?"

Well. I've got gracious plenty responses for that, but before I make a list, did you really think that tone of voice would change my mind?

Honestly, though, I see their point. Wouldn't it be delightful if life actually worked that way? If school let out for summer, the temp soared to 90, and no one had to do laundry or take out trash or clean toilets? If the pantry were endlessly stocked with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the fridge with Minute Maid Limeade and the freezer with filet mignon? (No kidding about that last one. It would be difficult to overstate the number of times, in this week alone, that my 14-year-old-son has asked, "Do we have any steak?" -- as if we routinely snack on $20-a-pound, medium rare, grilled meat.)

Some things do slack up, of course. Dress codes are abandoned. Bedtimes slide. Breakfast becomes every-man-for-himself. I even have a friend who, for years, got away with telling her young children that, "Yes, church is closed during the summer. Just like school."

In truth, when I was a kid, it felt as if all routines did come to a halt during the summer. Every morning, we'd get on our bikes and go -- ride trails, build forts, catch fiddler crabs and dine on Lowcountry delicacies like blackberries, wild plums, honeysuckle and sourgrass (that last, despite our parents telling us it was only sour because dogs peed on it).

We could go shoeless for days. To break any monotony that might creep in about mid-July, we'd shove someone off a boat -- in three feet of water or 30. Life jacket, life schmacket.

What a life.

So OK. No more pencils, no more books. School is out for my kids. I can't abolish all routines, but provided they can keep my MacBook on the charger, I reckon I can let a few other things slide. It's summer. We may as well enjoy it -- starting with these savory ribs inspired by a recipe I found in Bon Appetit magazine.

Babyback Ribs With Asian Flavors

Note that preparation for these ribs must begin hours in advance, or even better, the day before.

1, 3-3 1/2 lb. rack babyback ribs

1 tablespoon ginger paste (or 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger)
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon asian fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced to a paste with 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Prepare ribs. Rinse in cold water. Using a small thin knife, peel white membrane from underside of ribs. (Tough to do, but worth it.) Pat dry with paper towels.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl (or better, a small food processor or blender). Rub both sides of rack with mixture, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 250. After refrigerating ribs, cut into several (single-serving) sections. Put in a large baking dish, cover tightly with foil, and bake for two hours at 250 degrees.

Remove ribs from oven, check for tenderness. Ribs should be fully cooked and tender. Baste with pan juices and grill over indirect medium heat, until browned and crusty on both sides -- 10-15 minutes per side.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Life Is Good. Do I Need To Know Why?

(For Jamey.)

Suspicious happenings are afoot Chez Wiles.

Earlier today, Darling Daughter sought permission to embark on yet another all-important, can't-miss, everyone's-going social event. To which I responded, as I have the past 851 times such occasions have arisen (this week alone), "I'm not even considering it until your room's picked up and the cat litter boxes are cleaned out."

To which she replied, without a dram of facetiousness, "You're right. I'll take care of it."

You bet you will, I thought, satisfied. Having won the battle, I gave a smug nod, saying, "OK. Well, be sure to let me know when it's done." I turned crisply on my heel to get back to sorting laundry. But then, thought, What was that all about?

Come to think of it, Darling Daughter has been exceptionally accommodating these past few days. Beyond accommodating, in fact -- she's been pleasant, easygoing, and dare I say it, delightful.

My parental radar could not possibly be at a higher level of alert.

Think about it another way. Earlier today, regarding North Korea's ongoing and persistent nuclear tests and missile launches, President Barack Obama issued a warning, saying, "We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation."

That's all well and good. But what if, in response, sickly, scrawny, teeny, tiny, pompadoured and platformed Kim Jon-il, dictator-beyond-Conan-O'Brian's-wildest-dreams, had stretched up to his full five-foot-three-inches and had the mendacity to say -- "Okey dokey"?

I know, right? Plainly, something unusually nefarious would be afoot.

Same thing Chez Wiles. Somebody's up to no good.

But who?

Is is possible that Darling Daughter has achieved a new level of brain maturation, allowing her to be reasonable, respectful and rational? Nah. She's plenty clever, but her frontal lobe isn't scheduled to mature for another 10 years. Indeed, based on how things are progressing for her 14-year-old brother, maybe longer.

Is it possible that, despite 12-year-old brain development, my personal responsibility mantra has been sufficiently drummed into her head, and she's prepared to embrace my carefully-considered and all-knowing lessons? Nah. I won't kid myself -- I'm not that good.

Is it possible that I'm being played?

Ding, ding, ding! Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner!

Darling Daughter had said, "You're right. I'll take care of it"? What, exactly, did she mean by that? Did she think I wouldn't call her on that? Did she think she could just soothe me into complacency? Did she think ... ?

Wait a minute. Is is possible that I'm the one up to no good?

Maybe I'm too suspicious. She is, after all, Darling. Why wouldn't she be agreeable? Why wouldn't she be accommodating?

And really, who needs a reason? Regardless of how cunning and conniving either of us might be, maybe it's best just to embrace the situation. Whatever the circumstances, I'll take "accommodating" and "delightful" over "snarky" and "eye-spinning" any day of the week.

In fact, to promote such behavior, contrived or not, I may have to start her day tomorrow with a little something special -- like these always good, always light, always better-than-from-any-mix pancakes.

If only they worked on her 14-year-old brother.

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 stick (real) butter, melted

Using a fork or whisk, mix together dry ingredients in a bowl. When well combined, quickly stir in remaining ingredients with a few strokes of wooden spoon. Do not over-stir. Cook on a hot, prepared griddle, turning only once. Serve with syrup, or, at our house, powdered sugar and strawberries.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Time To Celebrate -- And A Time To Cry

Tomorrow marks my son's last day as a middle school student.  He'll cross an auditorium stage clutching a certificate, and just like that, he'll be a high school student.  I'll be seated, in one of those uncomfortable auditorium seats that flips up noisily if you shift too suddenly, clutching a Kleenex.  And just like that, I'll be the parent of a high school student.

Although my parents would report, accurately, that I cried nearly every day -- about something, everything, nothing -- from the age of 11 until about 14, I don't cry readily nowadays.  Nevertheless, I'm forecasting a 100% chance of waterworks tomorrow.

On his first day of kindergarten nine years ago, my sweet son clambered confidently onto the bus (and when you're only five years old, that first step is a doozy) for the 10-mile ride to school.

He never looked back.  Good thing, too -- because I lost it.  I don't mean I cried.  I bawled.  I heaved.  I blubbered.  

I could scarcely breathe between sobs.

Quite the spectacle.  My then-husband, never entirely comfortable with tears, was at a loss.  He glanced quickly at his watch and offered the only solace he could summon.  "I've got to get to work," he said, "but why don't you call the realtor and go find a house closer to school?  Maybe a house where you can actually see the school.   If you find something you like, call me.  We'll move."

What?  Just like that?  Move?  Buy a house?  Now, if he'd told me to buy some fabulous bejeweled earrings -- with a killer necklace to match -- I might've done that.  But buy a house?  His over-reaction put me and my over-reaction back on kilter.  We didn't move, of course.  I'm far too entrenched in my neighborhood.  But thus began the cycle of my tears as the kids make their way through these entirely foreseeable milestones.  I see the changes coming.  I know they're for the better.  But the tears still leak out.

At the end of that kindergarten year, my son was at odds.  Well-meaning adults kept asking if he was excited to be completing his kindergarten year.  Asking whether he was ready to be a "big first-grader."  Asking if he was looking forward to summer.  

No one asked if he'd be sad to leave his darling kindergarten teacher.  No one asked if he was nervous about moving to the first-grade "hall."  No one asked if he was sad to be leaving his friends for the summer.

As the final days of the year dwindled down, he wasn't sleeping well.  He had nightmares.  He was moody.  I had a glimmer of how he was feeling, but was losing patience.  One afternoon, after a particularly unexpected outburst (on his part), I blurted, "I don't understand what's going on here!" 

To which, my sweet six-year-old, eyes brimming with tears, exclaimed, "I have mixed feelings!"

Mixed feelings.  Eight years later, that's me.

I'm proud of his accomplishments since that kindergarten year, and I look forward to the ones to come, but I'm sad to end this chapter.  I've enjoyed it.  I'll miss it.

Still, it's time to move on.  My now-14-year-old and his friends are so grown that they scarcely seem to fit in the middle school hallways.  Their hormones are fully ramped.  They tower, sometimes menacingly, over the sixth graders.  My own son has been taller than me for quite some time now.

I've already warned him that I anticipate springing a leak tomorrow.  At first, he was incredulous.  Then, he urged me not to wear makeup.  The streaked mascara look, he reasoned, would be too embarrassing.  But then he consented that if I was just dabbing at my eyes, makeup would probably be OK.  Little does he realize that it's far better for both of us if I cry with makeup than without.

He'll get his certificate.  I'll get my Kleenex.  And we'll both move on.