The Fourth Quarter

The Fourth Quarter

I ran into a childhood friend recently, and we caught up on the last 40+ years of life. Two marriages, two divorces, five kids, four grandchildren, the death of parents, possible retirement, turning 60 (we’re both stressing over that a bit), and finally, what’s next? We didn’t say much about what’s next. It seems neither of us is sure. We discussed all of that in 45 minutes.

During our 45 minute conversation, my friend commented that at 60, we’re starting the fourth-quarter of our lives, the metaphor being football quarters. Of course, I’ve heard that before, but it struck me with more poignancy this time because, well, it’s my fourth-quarter. And, frankly, the first three quarters have me exhausted. I hear the Patriots are famous for their fourth-quarter comebacks due to a hill near their practice field the players refer to as that “f___” hill. That hill is where they run, conditioning themselves for a fourth-quarter edge. When their fourth-quarter comes, they aren’t exhausted. Running, the Patriots believe, wins the game.

I found my friend refreshing because he admitted that when retirement comes, he isn’t sure what to do. He wondered out loud how he would spend his time. He mentioned a few hobbies, his kids, and so on, but he was clear about one thing—he was tired. “I’ve worked at the same place for 30+ years, and girl, this old boy is tired,” he said.

I was glad for his honesty. I really am over the whole bucket list mentality.

After our meeting, I googled,  “Worse three football quarters ever then a win in the fourth inning.” Yes, I typed inning, but Google knew what I meant.

The Buffalo Bills comeback in the fourth quarter against the Houston Oilers on January 3, 1993, is so famous it is simply referred to as The Comeback. Lagging by 32 points, the score was 35-3 at the start of the fourth quarter. The Buffalo Bills won by gaining 38 points going into overtime. The final score was 41-38. It’s like they woke up and thought, oh yeah, we’re playing a football game. We need to play. I find that impressive. I’m sure if I had watched that game, I’d have cheered them on excitedly, but for my fourth-quarter, I’m not interested in huge wins. I want to play with the grandchildren, take long leisurely walks with the dog, and drink coffee mid-day on the porch while visiting with friends.

I started a bucket list of what I don’t want to do in my fourth-quarter. Here it is.

  • I don’t want to run a marathon.
  • I don’t want to wear ridiculous looking bicycle shorts.
  • I don’t want to join a gym. (They smell.)
  • I don’t want to climb Mt. Everest.
  • I don’t want to run for politics.
  • I don’t want to ride motorcycles.
  • I don’t want to go to a nude beach.
  • I don’t want to go volcano boarding.
  • I don’t want to get a tattoo.
  • I don’t want to skydive, scuba dive, or jump off of coral reefs.

I want to breathe deep. Sleep late. Stretch wide. Work the kinks out. Take naps. Eat carbs. Listen to silence. Let go.

I want to take my time.

And, maybe see the Northern Lights or a Broadway musical.

I don’t want to end the fourth quarter mad at anyone or anyone be mad at me. I’d like to forgive and be forgiven. I’d like to learn how to love well. I want to laugh and have dance parties with my grandchildren.

You get the idea. This old girl is tired.

I looked up people who became successful after 60. Two examples stood out, Judi Dench (as if she wasn’t always Judi Dench), and the guy who wrote the thesaurus, Peter Mark Roget. Roget compiled lists of words to help him combat his depression. One list was synonyms, today’s Roget’s Therasus, which he published when he was 73. You gotta love that guy. Who doesn’t love a thesaurus? Who doesn’t understand saying, I’m going to make lists now? Not a bucket list, but a list nonetheless.

My friend confessed he’s afraid of sixty. There’s a strained relationship with his youngest child; she blames him for the mistakes all parent’s make. His mother died this past fall. He’s cleaning out her house, sorting through his childhood while his daughter tells him what he did wrong in her’s. Medical insurance is expensive in retirement–1500 dollars a month– a mortgage payment. Then there’s the question of what his days will look like. “I don’t mind telling you,” he said, “60 is hitting me hard.”

I’m not looking for more years or more youth.

I’m looking to set records straight. Make peace. Make room. Forget grudges. Reconnect. Connect. Reconcile.

I’m looking for what I looked for in every new decade, love. Before my kid’s heads pop up, I don’t mean just romantic love. The older I get, the more I know that all love is love. I want to spend my fourth quarter loving friends, family, and community. Comebacks and late-in-life successes make for great reads, but my encounter with my friend reminded me that human connection is what we crave, what I crave. The world tells me I’m as young as I feel, to shoot for the comeback, to make that bucket list. My friend reminded me that it’s okay to be vulnerable.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want my fourth-quarter to be all highlight reels, but there’s a couple of places in my history I need to revisit, mostly to say I’m sorry or to check in and see how someone is doing after years apart, to remember and make new — less of a fourth-quarter and more of a full circle.

Still, if I’m honest, I am hoping for a few spectacular moments, maybe even a Hail Mary.

The Guilt Trip on the Holidays: It Works

My mom, Frankie Ann as she was known to her loved ones, could guilt her children into anything. I was annoyed by that talent for many years. I now am awed by it.

Aggie and I walked downtown today, and my charming tourist town was buzzing with folks who’d just arrived for the holiday. I watched the families coming together over coffee at our local coffee shop, and lunch at the local sandwich shop. Everyone was on their best behavior (it is only Wednesday), and smiles were everywhere.  I love the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the day before the big meal prep starts, when families are arriving, and there isn’t much to do except enjoy each other. You can run errands for the cook, while squeezing in some time for coffee and talk. I literally had to stop myself from pulling up a chair, and getting in on the coffee, conversation, and catching up.

So, how’s college going? Any girls?

How’s the new job? Tell me all about it.

So, you’re pregnant! Do we know if it is a boy or girl? How exciting.

You bought a new house? Oh wow. Show me pictures.

I adore those boots. Where did you get them?

I love that first glow of family togetherness when everyone is excited to see each other. That caught-off-guard feeling of how much you missed one another because life has been too busy to notice until this precise second when you are face-to-face again. And then, there are the hours of talking, laughing and telling stories. Awesome.

But these days I find myself, more often than not, on the other side of an empty table, with no family to catch up with, and my mother’s voice ringing in my ears.

There are lots of reasons for my present alone-ness. Children have moved away, parents have passed away, sisters live far away, and they’re trying to figure out how to gather their families under one roof, which is the theme of this particular post. Getting everyone together. Something I feel should be a offered as major in college for future moms, because it takes such finesse to pull it off.

It’s a strange time.

I fear I have missed a step. I missed the step where my family comes home to my house for the holidays. I have been each of those people at the table catching up over coffee, but one. I was the college student, the new career woman, the excited pregnant mom, the new home owner, and the stylish boot wearer, but I have not been the mom prepping the Thanksgiving meal as my family walks through the door. I have not been that mom with a cup of good coffee, sitting across the dining room table from my children, the night before Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or Easter, or fill-in-the-blank) soaking up their personalities and lives. There’s a good reason why not. I have children (son and daughter-in-law) in the military. (So that is an entire semester of study for the mom major. How to get past the government and corral your kids into one spot.)

Here’s the truth of the holidays for the mother. Every mother on the dang planet wants her children, in-laws, and grandchildren to come to her house for the holidays. Along with a whole host of friends for dessert.

Frankie Ann was unscrupulous about it.  She cared less if she guilted you or forced you, so long as you ended up at her house. Feel free to grumble and complain all the way back to your own house, whiile she tidied and reflected on her delight that we were all together.

For years. I swore I’d never do that to my kids. I’d never guilt them into a holiday trip home, but now, I might reconsider. It worked so fabulously for Mom. I even scolded her over it once, “Give it up, Mom. Debbie (my oldest sister) has 10 kids, who all have spouses, who all have mothers who want them to come to their houses. It’s impossible because of Debbie.” It was nice having a sister with 10 kids. She made a good scapegoat.

My scolding didn’t phase her. She repeated what she always said. “It is important for everyone to be together sometimes.”

This past spring, she sent out an email invite to everyone for Mother’s Day, about 2 months prior to Mother’s Day. It read, “Join me for church and then lunch at Fuddrucker’s on May 11. RSVP. Immediately.” That was sent to 4 daughters, 2 husbands, 17 grandchildren, 5 spouses of grandchildren and assorted boyfriends and girlfriends, and 11 great grandchildren. All but a few accepted, and we were almost all together that day. Here she is with my youngest. I love this picture of them.

Guilt Trip for the Holidays; It Works

Mom and Micah

The church was full of her family and we took up the back section at Fuddruckers. There was lots of picture taking, and lots of hey there’s, and hugs. It was a scene reminenscent of this morning as I watched families giving big hugs across tables covered with coffee cups, highchairs, booster seats, and walkers. Brothers jostled each other, sisters gloated over babies, and the mother? Well, she was in her element. Her family was in town and yes, she had a ton of work to do, turkeys to cook and dressing to make, but she was happy. Dad looked pretty happy, too.

Frankie Ann was in her element. Her family gathered around her and smiles everywhere. It was a good Mother’s Day for her.

So, while I miss my family this Thanksgiving, and am planning my guilt moves for next year’s holiday season (you think I kid), I am so tremendously thankful for May 11th 2014. Sometimes it is important for everyone to be together, because you don’t know if it will be the last time. I am glad Mom ignored me and did just as she pleased, guilt-ing us all into one last Mother’s Day together.

Frankie Ann and her “girls”

Frankie Ann and her “girls

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I Want Perfect Children

I want perfect children.

Parents always say, oh, I don’t expect my children to be perfect. I just want them to be….whatever. Whatever. I actually want mine to be perfect.

And, I don’t even like perfect people. They’re boring. Dull. I mean who writes books about perfect people? Nobody. It’s the flaws that make people interesting. It’s the flaws that make my children interesting. They aren’t nearly as cool, fun, quirky people without their less-than-perfect-traits. We have a family language developed around the imperfections of the four of us. Our private family jokes, our most cherished memories, our we-finish-each-other-sentences-moments come not from the times of perfect accomplishments, but from the almost-there efforts. Who doesn’t love the wrong notes played on the cello in the middle of the 5th grade symphony? It is the sum of the less-thans that form the perfection of my children. It is those not-quites that create the unique individuals I call my children (adult children now). It is their oddities that I love most.

So why am I screaming for perfect children?

Because I want some sleep. (Let me add that I write this at 4:07 a.m. Take your best guess on why.)

Because if they’re perfect, then I never have to worry about them, right?

Because it is my heart’s desire for them to be safe. To be happy. To be secure. To be okay, and its easy to get all those things mixed with up the word perfect.

Because here’s the dilemma:  I am no longer in charge of them.

Maybe, write that sentence again: I AM NO LONGER IN CHARGE OF THEM.

When they were 10 and 5 making not-the-best-choice held its consequences, but not life-changing, or possibly, deadly ones. Now at 24 and 20, a misstep can have a lifetime of man-I-screwed-that-up attached to it. Having a of few of my own, man-I-screwed-that-up moments, (that never really go away) I dread the thought of it for them. Mom doesn’t show up to right the wrongs anymore, because little boys only need a Batman band-aid and a kiss on the head, and off they go. Big boys need courage, perseverance  foresight, wisdom, the ability to stand against their peers when needed, the faith to stand where others will not sometimes. Big boys have wives and children of their own. (The oldest has a 2 year old, Miss Priss, and an almost 2 week old, SJ, and they are perfect. Thank God.) They are the providers and guiders now. They live in big people world now, with yes, big rewards, but, sadly, big consequences, too. My ex says he wishes kids matured in dog-years. I wish I did too.

My kids say, “Mom, you worry too much.” (Oh, I do not. Isn’t every mother up at 4:27 a.m. writing a blog about her kids?) They say, “You did your job, Now trust us to do ours.”

Okay, so yeah. It is their turn now. It is their time to see how they fare away from home where Mom and Dad kept a vigilant watch. And, I get that. I just don’t feel that. It is in my head as exactly what parents are supposed to do when their kids become adults, but it hasn’t reached my heart yet. I am still keeping that vigilant watch, and they are long gone. Hence, the kid-sleep-insomnia.

While other parents said good-bye, and rolled over for a well-deserved nap, or got dressed for a night on the town, I am only beginning to understand. They’re gone. And, now it is their turn to shine, and yes, make their mistakes. 

So, what’s the slightly obsessed mother to do? Pray.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my grown children to keep.(My grown children who aren’t perfect, but come pretty darn close. )