This piece originally appeared in my Off the Clock with The Checkout Girl column, over at RVA News.
My kids and I are big text messagers. Whether they are at school, or I am at work, they are with friends, or I am out doing errands, our lives don’t lend themselves to phone conversations. And goodness knows, with a 16 and an 18 year old, actual face time is limited to the one dinner and one weekend day per week that we brainstormed everyone could spare without seriously effecting their social standing.
So, we tap out our messages, on our cell phones, in a modern day Morse Code.
From the common, everyday stuff:
* Can we go to Red Lobster tonight?
* We can’t afford it. Doctor bills have us pretty broke until payday.
* Okay. Dollar menu at BK, then?
* Help! I have a bag of Doritos on my bed that I need for a class party in English. Can you bring them to school please?
* That’s exactly how I’d dreamed of spending my day off! Sure.
To the comical:
* I didn’t get raptured. You?
* I’m at Target, so I can’t tell.
* Pooping so much in the IHOP bathroom. There’s NO WAY the people in the restaurant can’t hear it.
* Well, I’m glad you had your phone with you to share this moment with me.
* Smartypants. Okay, gotta go pretend the noises were someone else. Love you!
To the touching base to let each other know that we care:
* Hey mother, did you know you are the coolest, awesomest mom in the entire world?
* Did you know you are the best daughter? Besides Dakota Fanning, I mean. Duh. I loves you.
* How was your doctor’s appointment? Did they figure out that you are a zombie?
* No, I went brain-free the entire time! But now I’m starved!!
* So you’re okay? I was worried. Good about the brains, though.
When Jeff Conaway died recently, I knew my daughter would take it hard. I didn’t want her to hear it from someone else, so I texted her.
* Goddamn it, Jeff Conaway died.
* Oh. He had a hard life.
* Should we talk about this when I get home?
When I got home, we did talk about it. She asked if he had finally died of an overdose.
We took to the internet for more info. She nodded as I read the details out loud. Pneumonia. Coma. Life support. Terminated.
We both had tears in our eyes.
Why should the death of a 60-year-old, washed up actor, matter to a 16-year-old high school sophomore and her checkout girl mother? Yes, we both grew up on the movie Grease, knowing every word of every song, and dreaming of our dream parts should the movie version of a Broadway play ever need a fresh-faced remake. But there’s more. An undercurrent to every sensational, drug-related Hollywood death. Corey Haim. Michael Jackson. Greg Giraldo. All, the same reaction.
A look cross-wise. A second where we meet each other’s gaze and time stops, then we look away and life is back to normal.
We love an addict.
My brother, her uncle, struggles with addiction.
Born when I was 16, my brother, now 22, is more like my child than sibling. For the first three years of his life, I helped care for him, before marrying and having children of my own. My kids have grown up with him, spending weekends and school vacations with him, and embracing him more as a brother than an uncle. And we all love him, right down to our core.
Time and tide took us away from our hometown of San Diego and landed us in Richmond. And, while we had all kept in touch, I hadn’t actually seen my brother in two years when I got a call from my dad.
“Your brother is a heroin addict.”
Confusion. Tears, yes. Anger, yes. But, mostly, confusion.
I mean, sure, we come from alcoholics and eaters, but heroin? What was that, even?
My brother went to rehab, while I went to educate myself. He learned 12 steps while I learned what he’d been going through for five years. He struggled with his demons, while I struggled to revise, in my head, the image of the boy that I thought I knew inside and out. Guilt over not having been there gave way to a vow to be there now, even though I’m not actually there.
And he still struggles, daily. One step forward, two steps back. Two steps forward, one step back. We believe in him. And love him, as much as we ever did. More, in fact, because now we are loving him for who he really is, not who we thought he was.
But every middle of the night phone call brings the same cross-wise look, as my children and I meet in the living room to check the caller ID. There’s a slight feeling of sadness when we recall family fun from the past, and a slight feeling of worry when we talk about the future.
And I text them a bit more. Sometimes to tell them to watch out for dog poo when they get home because I saw it while I was running out the door but was already late for work, and sometimes to tell them that I love them and am proud of the choices they are making.
Will my brother overcome this? My heart will only allow me to believe yes. The thought of any other possibility leaves me paralyzed, and I have things to do. And his struggle has brought my children and I closer, more willing to express our feelings because we know that tomorrow is a promise not always kept.
As for Jeff Conaway, I read, about a year ago, that he wanted to die at home, and was requesting a Viking funeral, including being burned on a boat and sent out to sea. While he didn’t get those things in the end, he got peace. We all do, some of us just need it more than others.
This piece originally appeared in my Off the Clock with The Checkout Girl column, over at RVA News.
I heard his voice out of the corner of my ear, emanating from the television that was shouting out headlines, as I got ready for work.
“Something-something-something missing 16-year-old son. Something-something-something tornado in Joplin, Missouri. Something-something-something calling his cell phone, hoping he’ll pick up.”
I glanced over and saw the image of a man, crying uncontrollably, and clutching a picture of a boy, who looked much like my own teenage son.
I stopped what I was doing and stood in front of the television, having gone from passively listening for current event tidbits about which I could make small talk with customers for the day to captivated by this dad’s story.
He was Mike Hare, the father of 16-year-old Lantz Hare, a boy sucked from his car by the EF-5 tornado that leveled huge portions of the city of Joplin, Missouri, a week ago Sunday. A friend, who was in the car with Lantz at the time the tornado struck, was found alive, but badly injured.
As I stood before the television, Mike Hare described, through tears and breath-stealing sobs, the family’s growing desperation and how, in addition to constantly phoning hospitals, help agencies, and morgues, he was also frequently calling Lantz’s cell phone.
“It rang for the first day and a half, and now it goes straight to voice mail. But just in case he gets it, I want him to know his dad loves him.”
My heart stopped. My eyes welled. My gut knotted. I had to sit down.
Since the hot Hawaiian day I gave birth for the first time in January 1993, I have been warned.
“Oh, you’re children are so darling. JUST WAIT until they are teenagers.”
As they edged toward teendom, the seemingly well-meaning and opinionated, grew more ominous in their predictions.
“Your son and daughter are 10 and 12? You are in for a rough few years!”
When they reached the magic ages, the same people looked at me the way one would gaze upon a martyr.
“13 and 15? I don’t know how you do it!”
I was regaled with stories about other people’s wild teens, and about what wild teens the people, themselves, were. I was cautioned about drug use, promiscuity, and just plain spawn of the devil-type evil.
But I knew my children. They are the two halves to my whole heart. I’ve never understood someone so intimately as I do the pair to which I gave birth. I can finish their sentences. I can see hurt. I can feel disturbances in their force, and, even when we aren’t together, can send an “I love you” or “call me if you need me” text at exactly the right time, as if by magic.
And I’ve also never been understood so intimately. No one can see through me as well as those two, or cut right through me, when they so choose. Criticism from others? Shit, I’m a strong woman and I know myself so don’t even try it. Criticism from them? Devestating. But they are sensitive enough to look at the clock, notice I’m not home, and send an “I’m sorry you have to work late, does this mean no dinner? Haha.” text, as well.
But, as someone who could easily have won “Miss Completely Uncertain of Her Parenting Skills” for 18 years running, I worried. What if those soothsayers of doom, those harbingers of rebellion and anarchy knew more than I did?
As one who has always been honest with her children, to the point of “Mom! We don’t NEED to know all this about you!!”, they know I’ve been battening down the hatches for years. From time to time, we’ll disagree about something and I’ll say “Is this it? Is this the moment when you start hating me and start planning your facial tattoos and back seat babymaking?”
But they are 16 and 18 now, and I’m still waiting. Waiting for them to be less than my everything. Waiting for my heart to break. And, nothing.
When I saw Mike Hare talking about Lantz, the son who looked so much like my own, I felt something well beyond sympathy. I felt oneness. I, too, would be calling my lost boy’s cell phone, maybe even for the rest of my life.
Lantz’s body was located in a morgue on Thursday, through the efforts of a community who had come together for this family. Heartbreakingly, there are dozens more stories, just like his. The numbers rise and fall, daily, but, at last count, at least 126 people in Joplin had died due to the storm, and the number unaccounted for stands at 44.
That’s 170 hearts, missing halves.
If you want to help the tornado victims, abc News has put together a list of organizations that are doing just that, and ways that you can contribute to them.
It feels appropriate that the word Monday, and the Spanish word for Monday, Lunes, are so closely related to the moon, because I’ve been called a lunatic more than once today.
Well, my new project is one that people are either really getting or really, really not getting.
So, check it out here: JenniferSleeps.com and decide if you think it’s brilliant art, an interesting social experiment, or a whole lotta what the fuck.
Also, speaking of moons and space, I have a new column today, and it’s getting rave reviews. It’s about my feelings on the Space Shuttle program, and its imminent demise. Bittersweet memories abound.
I’ll admit it… I’m a bragger. I toot my own horn. And, so what? I’m only good at, like, 100 things, so I might as well tell you about them. No one else is going to do it. That is, until I get a personal assistant. Then, full time bragger for Jennifer Lemons! Just think how good that will look on her resume when she finally brings one halfcaff too many and I have to throw it in her face and send her away, forever!
This week’s column is about why I brag, why I taught my kids to brag, and why you should, too. Leave a brag in the comments, if you want. It feels good.
My friend, Laura Watkins, a writer for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, frequently brings me to tears, either from laughter or, you know, emotion. This piece she wrote about her mom was no exception.
You can click on Laura’s picture to see more of her writing. I highly recommend subscribing; you won’t be sorry.