It’s all legal now!

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MerryWith3KidsNo, I’m not talking about the recreational pot shops I saw in Colorado last week. Today, I’m celebrating something else: everyone in my family is an adult.

There’s nothing like having my youngest turn 18 to toss me down the rabbit hole in a swirl of melancholy and joy.

I almost got lost in a royal maze so strewn with neon reminders like “old,” “wrinkled,” and “empty nest this way,” that I wanted to beg the queen, “off with my head!” But I escaped and swigged a potion that swelled my brain with memories of everything from giving birth to going on college tours.

There was Ciarán’s extraordinary culinary experiments, Aislínn’s impressive leading roles, Séan’s elaborate Beanie Baby productions. And who could forget all things Star Wars?  For years, the boys wouldn’t get in their bunk beds without the Essential Guides” to droids, vessels, planets and intergalactic characters. Then came our trip to Maine, when I read the first Harry Potter out loud for most of the 10-hour drive – without a single fight in the back seat!

Like the Cheshire Cat, I could smile and disappear into this reverie forever:  the hikes, the first teeth, the traumas we’ve turned into jokes. Yet when I come up for air and look at my three adult children, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and pride. They’ve introduced me to so much, from dinosaurs to Louis C.K. They’ve brought more curiosity, amazement and patience into my life. Plus, they’ve always made me laugh.

But more than anything, they’ve grown into people who I truly like and respect. And while I know I’ll always be their parent, I’m happy to be welcoming the phase where we also are friends.

Scrabbled Generations

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scrabble tilesSome mothers bond with their daughters through shopping, some through cooking, some through favorite TV shows.  For my mom, it was Scrabble.

Her board was so old and worn, she probably had it from before I was born and counted the days until I could spell. By high school, my competitive spirit made up for her daily crossword habit, and I held my own against those obscure New York Times puzzle words she always snuck in. Of course, I made her prove they were real in the huge Webster’s we kept next to us.

But the real fun began when I got out of college. I was a news reporter, working the night shift at a daily paper. And every single afternoon before I left for work, my mother and I played. We splurged for the new rotating board, and I loved the fancy plastic tile holders that let me shuffle letters around without her peeking. Daily matches honed our slick combinations, brought us to new levels of clever consonant-vowel constellations and upped the ante for triple-point tricks. If words were wine, we were drunk every day.

Then I got promoted. I became a feature writer; a coveted day-time gig. So after hundreds of daily contests, we went cold turkey and packed the game box away.

In the last few years of my mom’s life, when she was immobilized by osteoporosis but still sharp as a tack, we took out the Scrabble board again. My own puzzle-passionate daughter, Aislinn, then in high school, joined us, and it was always a toss-up (and the luck of the letter-draw) as to who might win.

After my mother passed and my daughter went to college, I stowed the board once more.

Then last week, out of the blue, Aislinn, home on summer break, asked for my iPhone.

“Why?” I wanted to know.

“Just give it to me. I’m putting something on that you’ll like.”

And before I could finish my normal paranoid protest, she grabbed it, clicked away and handed it back. I looked down at the small screen – it was Scrabble!  Yes, I know. She told me it’s called Words with Friends. But that’s just a trendy marketing title. It really is Scrabble!

The first couple of matches, she kicked my puzzle-deprived brain. For someone who never even tried my kids’ video games, it’s a little weird getting used to the remote, time-lapse competition. But now that we’ve played a few times (and I even won once!), I have the same feeling I had all those afternoons with my mother.

The best part is when Aislinn goes back to school in August, I don’t have to put the game board away. They might call it Words with Friends; but for me, it is Words with Love.

You knew, didn’t you…

Rho @ 82 On March 22, 2012 — like countless of Thursdays before — I took my mom food shopping and to lunch. She loved Shop Rite! While I cringed at seeing the supermarket become the highlight of her week, not to mention that we went during the senior rush (or should I say slow) hour, she was in her glory. Leaning on her cart, she felt safe and steady comparing prices, checking salt content and sneaking a few Cadbury bars under her produce. That day was one of her “good ones.” No need for Vicodin to dull the knife blade that usually crippled her osteoporotic body. And later, at “our” diner, she was hungry enough to eat her entire corned beef on rye instead of saving half for dinner. I could barely steal some fries before she finished them, too. It was just one of those great afternoons where we sat and laughed and talked and she even had an extra cup-a-Joe.

That night, she died. I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t believe. I could’t breathe.

In the last week, I’ve heard from two dear friends about their moms, both in their 80’s, like mine. One falters between dementia and panic, with children (including my friend) who don’t have the time or money to provide the constant care she needs. The other, coming off a second traumatic hip replacement (yes, two fake body parts), just fell again, toppling over in her walker, fracturing God-knows-what.

I’ve been there, raw from running between my own life and my mother’s rehab bed, wondering just how I was going to manage when she went home. But, like all dark nights, that overwhelming helplessness fades when things get back to normal. And luckily my mom’s life was back to normal for a long time — until it was gone in a flash.

I am so sad that she never saw Aislinn graduate, Sean drive, or knew I finally finished my book. I can’t look at pre-cooked pot roast dinners at Shop Rite without tearing up. And at least once a day something pops into my head that i wish I could tell her.

But after talking to my friends this week, I realize what a true gift my mother gave me: a wonderful, beautiful last day together; a quick and unexpected passing.

Thank you mom. I love you.