Posted in Columns

Family Tradition Tucked into 500 Squares of Pasta

There’s nothing like coming home from a long day at work to a flour-covered kitchen.
I mean really flour-covered. Flour on the counter, flour on the floor and in the sink, flour in piles and semi-wet splotches on the table. Flour on my husband and flour on his mom.

I made a snapshot of the image in my brain, the two of them working independently together to preserve their 50-plus-year-old family tradition.
Ravioli.

My husband sat at one end of the table feeding golden dough through a machine that complained in a shrill voice – much to the dog’s dismay – with each pass. This was his dad’s job for more than 15 of the 50 years. Dad died five years ago and the machine has pretty much been silent since then.

This was the week for a ravioli revival.

To my husband’s right, his mom focused on flouring the back of

each dough rectangle, placing it on the form, making the pockets and filling them with cheese or meat mixtures that merge the flavors of her marriage with mine, with my husband’s and even our kids’ childhood memories.

Her fingers worked with precision:  Flour. Stretch. Place. Pockets. Fill.

Flour. Dough. Roll. Peel.

Flip. Arrange. Repeat.

All the while, the motor’s symphonic whine continued as the dough was readied for the next batch.

Ravioli revival became ravioli marathon – 10 hours’ worth when those delicious little pasta pockets were all in the freezer and the kitchen made spotless.
I volunteered for cleanup. It was my contribution for being privy to taste-testing a half-dozen or so ravioli.

They tasted like they have for the nearly 30 years I’ve been part of this Italian family.

It made me think about tradition and how so many things weave our short lives into the intricate web that is our family, friends and community.

For the most part, we probably don’t think about them until something changes. Children grow up, get married and have their own kids. Someone moves. Someone dies.
Ravioli was always a New Year’s tradition. After seeing how much work it took to make enough ravioli to feed my husband’s immediate family – nearly 800 squares – I understand why my mother- and father-in-law only did this once a year!

Jan. 1 is four months away, but at this point, it didn’t matter. Son and mother wanted to spend time together so he could learn the process – and the “recipe” his mom has carried in her head for so many years.

We created little traditions with our kids when they were growing up, sometimes by accident. A giant Hershey Kiss on Valentine’s Day. First day of school photos. Notes from the tardy tooth fairy – with a dollar or two – when she forgot to make her rounds the previous night. Decorating school lockers on birthdays. Hiding plastic Easter eggs filled with candy throughout the house – even for the working college kid. Visiting Duluth (we lived in Minnesota for a long time)and eating at the same Vietnamese restaurant and then buying a sweet treat at the candy store next door.
Some of those things morphed from my childhood traditions – though the tooth fairy was always punctual at my house. Some started on a whim – going into school at the crack of dawn to plaster baby pictures and hang streamers all over a kid’s locker for his or her birthday.

I can’t wait to see which of those traditions our kids continue in their own lives. I look forward to a time when each of them will sit at the end of the table feeding golden dough through a flour-covered whining duck-taped machine, their dad at their right, flouring, stretching, placing and thinking about how connected they are to family.

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Posted in Columns

Family bonds or family bondage: What would we do without our siblings?

Brothers and sisters. Everyone should have at least one one. Those of us elder children – the bossy ones, perfected our leadership skills by ruling over our younger siblings.

I had a lot of leadership training through my sisterly relationships. My sister Eve is close enough to my age –born 18 months after me and was a year behind me in school – to provide constant companionship as well as competition.

We shared a room. We shared our parents until our younger sister, Becky arrived on the scene almost six years later. We shared our toys for the most part, though we nearly fought to the death over important things like Barbie dolls, Little Kiddles (so what if it was her birthday and she got the Kiddle Castle and I was jealous and pulled her hair?) and much later, the occasional attention of the male species.

Then there were our creative cooking ventures. She willingly tasted the unpalatable combinations of foods that I certainly was not going to taste. I’m pretty sure I convinced her they were delicious; I’m pretty sure now that they were not and have apologized profusely for using her as a lab rat.

We learned teamwork as our screaming, yelling, hair-pulling, fist-pounding arguments quickly turned into cooperative self-preservation after some item or another – something parents would care about – was broken. Our minds quickly melded as one to re-create the dramatic sequences of events that led to the destruction of a particular lamp.

Then there were the situations in which some other kid ripped on my sisters. Uh-uh. No go. I was the only one allowed to pound on my sister; anyone else who did so was seriously sorry.

My “baby” sister was another story. I mothered her from the day she was born and she didn’t seem to mind the attention. There were enough years between us to encourage an amicable, peaceful relationship.

However, the pecking order was established – and Eve quickly learned she had the age advantage in that situation.

Of course, both of my sisters – like most younger siblings – developed keen survival skills that often involved creative manipulation of information, mostly to get tattletale older sisters of their backs.

I missed out by not having brothers like my daughter did. They all taught each other an assortment of self-defense moves, from boxing and wrestling to Kung Fu.

Really, it’s rather amazing that any of us survive our childhood exploits, but we do. We all grew up – at least physically. The crazy things we did as kids created a bond between us because we know things about each other that no one, including our parents, did (or should!) Siblings give us something to laugh about at family gatherings – and often, we don’t have to say a word!

Of course, I realize this applies to my three children as well. They, too, have a giant list of sibling secrets that I really don’t want to know about. They made it into their 20s, despite roof-climbing, bridge-jumping, underage driving (bet you thought I didn’t know about that), day long canoe trips during near-tornadoes and who knows what else. They are who they are because of their siblings, like I am who I am because of mine.

Posted in Columns

All that glitters

Grandma had the most incredible Christmas tree – at least in the eyes of my 5-year-old self. The tree was top-to-bottom shiny silver, and decorated with gleaming gold glass balls. Still, all that glitter and glitz wasn’t the best part.

The tree held in its branches a mystery, its aluminum needles stealthily changing color from blue…to green…to red. To blue again.

It was a breathtaking sight, a nearly religious experience to sit in Grandma’s dark living room, watching the tree change color, a symphony of star-like reflections chasing each other across the walls, the ceiling and the gilt-wrapped gifts scattered under the tree.

I remember being almost disappointed when I later discovered that the tree itself was not changing color – rather, the shifting hues came from a rather simplistic light in the back. A wheel divided into thirds – one red, one green, one red, rotated lazily on its hub. Still, it was magic enough for me.

As much as I enjoyed the magic, I respected – OK, feared – the tree as well. I quickly learned that if I walked too close to the tree’s glittering needles, they would send an electrical spark to parts of my unsuspecting body. That only happened once or twice before I learned it was far better to look, but not touch.

Years later, when I was an adult, I helped Grandma clean out her basement, a treasure trove of memories. Grandma had lived through the Great Depression and it was only on rare occasions that she threw anything away – but those are stories for another day.

There, on a dusty corner shelf, was the infamous rotating light. I eagerly looked for the tree, but apparently, it had fallen apart years before. Grandma said the light still worked, so she saw no reason to throw it away. Whether she used it or not.

I looked at the light lovingly, brushing off layers of dust with my hands, instantly taken back to the Christmases of my childhood.

“I loved this light,” I said. So Grandma let me take it home.

I wish I could say I still had it, but I don’t. I don’t remember when it rotated for the last time. It may have been when my kids were young, when I pulled out the light for an impromptu dance show or dramatic presentation. Difficult as it was, I must have thrown it away.

Each year, as Christmas approaches and brightly decorated trees fill store aisles and neighbors’ windows, I think of Grandma, her tree and the magic light and realize they will live in my heart forever.

And today, I know that to be true as I gaze at the 32-inch Fiber Optic Silver Tinsel Tree gleaming from a corner of my desk, winking at me in its multitude of colors and whispering, “Do you remember?”

Of course I do. How could I forget?

COPYRIGHT 2008 BY CHRISTINE LUPELLA. DO NOT REPRINT OR POST WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

Posted in Columns

Make your list – but check it twice

We have a new game at our house, begun inadvertently through a magical mixture of a whiteboard, a grocery list, and a college student who needs entertainment as he trolls the refrigerator for leftovers.

I came up with a brilliant plan to attach a whiteboard to my refrigerator to keep a running grocery list. In case you are unfamiliar, a whiteboard is a white board – really – on which you can write with erasable markers. (Note: never mistake a permanent marker for an erasable marker. The respective modifiers clearly describe the results for each.)

I’ve been doing it for a couple of years, scrawling the names of items that run out or are nearly-running out, so I can copy the list when I’m ready to go shopping, leave it on the counter and call home to ask someone – anyone – to read it to me over the telephone.

But I digress.

I ran out of foil last week. You know, the metal stuff you line the bottom of pans with when you don’t want to scrape off a burned mess. I automatically wrote it on the list: “Foil.”

A day later, there were unfamiliar etchings next to “Foil.” They read:
(x+2)(x-2) = x2 – 4 (x+2)(x+2) = x2+4x+4.

Or something like that.

Huh?

I recognized the college student’s writing, but given that he is a theater major, I wasn’t sure where the math stuff came from.

Then, visions of high school Algebra class came flooding back – not really in detail, but I vaguely remem-bered using something called the FOIL method to solve equations that no longer matter in my life. (I have an innate preference for words, not numbers. My apologies to all the mathematicians out there!)

Funny stuff.

Next item on the list: Nutella. Nutella is a fabulous hazelnut-chocolate spread that is a sort of Italian version of peanut butter. Only it’s chocolate, so it’s way better.

Next day: Nutella at a bank. What? What’s a tella at a bank?

I groaned.

Later, I ran out of Pam (the non-stick cooking spray) and Suet (for birds, not people.) Those items went on the list.

Later: “Pam per your chil-dren,” and “Suet to the old-ies.”

The first one was easy. I had to think about the second one…until a rather unpleasant vision of a sweaty Richard Simmons dancing to 60s music in silk shorts popped into my head.

I decided to play the game, too. I added “Salad dressing to kill” to the list. And “Smilk (some + milk).”

Turns out I stumped the crew with pizza, however.

I wrote it on the list. I waited.

The note: “I got nothin’.” Perhaps his creativity ran out?

Because I would have added: “Pizza meet ya’.”

Does that mean I win?

Posted in Columns

I wanna be 2

I want to be 2 years old.

Spending a week with my granddaughter in too-far-away Georgia last week made me realize that life is pretty much delightful when you’re 2.

For one thing, Ella introduced me to the wonderful musical world of “The Wonder Pets,” one of the rare TV shows she watches.

Every.

Single.

Morning.

The moment she opens her bright blue eyes and shuffles sleepily out of her room, she plunks into her beanbag chair, sippy-cup in hand, and issues the order: “Ming Ming!”

For the uninitiated, Ming Ming is the fluffy yellow duckling that dons a superhero cape so she can rescue an animal that’s in trouble somewhere in the world – like the French poodle that was trapped at the top of the Eiffel Tower in France.

Ming Ming and her “Wonder Pet” compatriots – a turtle and guinea pig – leave the safety of their cages to build boats or planes or whatever they need to tend to their rescuing duties.

And they do everything while they are singing.

One warning: their songs worm their way between the folds of your brain and become a permanent part of its cellular structure. That means you’ll be singing the same song.

All.

Day.

Long.

When you’re 2 years old, eating is an event. Shouting “My nums!” (Ella’s shortened version of “Yummy yum”) is all it takes to have a bowl of oatmeal or crackers and cheese plopped in front of you.

It’s a darn good life.

Then, after breakfast, there are so many things to discover – like judging the viscosity of equal portions of dirt mixed with water, or facing the physical challenge of climbing from floor to bench to tabletop in less than 10 seconds.

I want to be 2 years old because I want to spend the day coloring pictures, playing in the park, cuddling my doll, learning to use the potty (no more diapers!), singing the ABCs, mimicking every silly sound my “Pop Pop” (grandpa) makes, tasting everything and not worrying about being rude if I think it’s yucky, throwing rocks, chas-ing the dog and being loved by my mommy and daddy and Grammy and pretty much everyone I meet.

Sure, there is the occasional drama that requires a timeout and then a hug and kiss, but for the most part, life is exciting and wonderful and new every minute of the day when you’re 2.

I’ve always thought we should age backwards. I didn’t really appreciate being 2 when I was 2. But more than four decades later, I see that 2-year-olds have a wonderful outlook on life.

I suppose whenever I need a 2-year-old fix, I’ll just have to jet on down to Georgia to see Ella. Besides, we have more crayon pictures to draw, more flowers to smell, more cookies and ice cream to eat, and more cuddling to do.

It kind of makes me hope she’ll never grow up. That way I won’t have to grow up, either.

Posted in Columns

Reel countdown: Classic and not-so-classic movies enhance the holiday spirit

My husband and I are obsessed. We love movies – enough to watch them over and over and over again, whether they’re on TV or DVD. It doesn’t matter.

So, as of Dec. 1, we started watching at least one of our growing collection of Christmas movies each night. We checked Christmas movies out of the library, and rented a few others. Some are traditional, feel-good, family films. Others – well, they’re probably more appropriate for Mom and Dad to watch after the kids go to bed.

So here it is, our not-so-comprehensive list of our favorite Christmas movies, their basic plots, best lines, and the reason we watch them again and again. (And again…)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

This is, hands-down my favorite Christmas movie. Actually, it’s my favorite movie of all time.

For the uninitiated, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the story of George Bailey (played by James Stewart), a regular guy who – like many of us – feels his life is con-trolling him, rather than the other way around.

Clarence, an angel who needs to earn his wings, is assigned to George’s “case.” One snowy night, Clarence give George a glimpse of what the world would be like if George had never been born.

I think I’ve seen the movie at least 25 times – probably more. And I never fair to shed a tear or two at the end.

Best lines:

• “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know.”

• “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” (Zuzu Bailey)

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

“Miracle on 34th Street” makes me realize that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The main theme of this movie – commercialism vs. the spirit of Christmas – reflect the same concerns many of us have today, almost 60 years later.

But perhaps I delve too deep. Really, it’s a great story about a little girl – and her cynical mother – who learn to have faith in their imaginations and in people, when they meet Kris Kringle – the real Santa Claus.

Best lines:

• “Your Honor, every one of these letters is addressed to Santa Claus. The Post Office has delivered them. Therefore the Post Office Department, a branch of the Federal Governent, recognizes this man Kris Kringle to be the one and only Santa Claus.”

• “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”

Elf (2003)

I was a tough sell on “Elf.” I like Will Ferrell in smaller doses, and I figured this movie would include the usual gratuitous jokes about body functions.

When I finally saw the movie, I was surprised – and bought my own copy right away with the idea that “Elf” was one of those instant Christmas classics.

Elf is the story of Buddy, a now grown-up orphan baby who stowed away in Santa’s pack and was raised by elves. As an adult, Buddy heads to New York to meet his birth father – who is on Santa’s naughty list.

Best lines:

• “You smell like beef and cheese, you don’t smell like Santa.”

• “It’s just like Santa’s workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms… and everyone looks like they wanna hurt me…”

White Christmas (1954)

What Christmas would be complete without Bing Crosby singing the title song from this classic movie?

The plot revolves around the adventures of a pair of Army buddies (played by Crosby and Danny Kaye) who team up for a song-and-dance act. They meet up with a similar sister act, and romance ensues.

The four head to a Vermont lodge to do a Christmas show and find that the men’s former Army commander is the owner.

This movie has some fun comic bantering. Rather than listing best lines, I think it’s more appropriate to list the best songs, which are:

• White Christmas (of course!)

• Sisters

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

I saw the most recent version of this Christmas classic, “The Preacher’s Wife,” first – and loved the story – but the original is really the best.

In this movie, Cary Grant plays an angel who attaches himself to a bishop and his family. The bishop has lost his focus and maybe a bit of faith, while his wife tries hard to keep their romance alive.

The snappy dialogue is what makes the original superior to the remake.

Best line:

• “Sometimes angels rush in where fools fear to tread.”

A Christmas Carol (1951 Alistair Sims version)

There are dozens of versions of Charles Dickens’ story of transformation and redemption – this 1951 version is the classic.

Best lines:

• “A merry Christmas, Ebenezer! You old HUMBUG! Oh, and a happy new year! As if you deserved it!”

• “God bless us, every one!”

The Santa Clause (1994)

Santa falls off a man’s roof – and the homeowner, a divorced dad, becomes Santa’s replacement.

Best line:

• “We’re your worst nightmare. Elves with attitude.”

Home Alone (1990)

A little boy gets his wish – to have no family – when he is accidentally left behind when his entire family goes to France for Christmas.

Best line:

• “I took a shower washing every body part with actual soap; including all my major crevices; including in between my toes and in my belly button which I never did before but sort of enjoyed. I washed my hair with adult formula shampoo and used cream rinse for that just-washed shine. I can’t seem to find my toothbrush, so I’ll pick one up when I go out today. Other than that, I’m in good shape.”

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993 – animated)

Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored, so he ventures into Christmas Town – and wants the ghouls and goblins of Halloween Town to put on Christmas.

I love the music in this, and it is one of my son’s favorites. He’d like to see it produced as a Broadway show – someday, someday.

Best line:

• “And on a dark cold night, under full moonlight, he flies into the fog like a vulture in the sky! And they call him Sandy Claws!”

Family Man (2000)

This is one of my husband’s favorites. It’s a sort of updated version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – in reverse, as the main character, Jack – a single, wealthy man who lives in a New York high-rise apartment – wakes up Christmas morning to find himself married to his former girlfriend, living in a house in the ‘burbs with a couple of kids and a dog.

Maybe my sweetie identifies with Jack when he says, “We have a house in Jersey. We have two kids, Annie and Josh. Annie’s not much of a violin player, but she tries real hard. She’s a little precocious, but that’s only because she says what’s on her mind. And when she smiles… And Josh, he has your eyes. He doesn’t say much, but we know he’s smart. He’s always got his eyes open, he’s always watching us. Sometimes you can look at him and you just know he’s learning something new. It’s like witnessing a miracle. The house is a mess but it’s ours. After 122 more payments, it’s going to be ours…And we’re in love. After 13 years of marriage we’re still unbelievably in love.”

At least I’d like to think so.

Of course, I identify with Kate, Jack’s wife, when she says, “Jack. Strong. Coffee.”

Best lines:

You just read ‘em.

Somewhat irreverent – but loads of fun:


The Ref (1994)

Denis Leary plays a cat burgler who kidnaps a constantly-bickering married couple.

The dialogue is fast and furious and filled with black humor. It’s certainly not your traditional Christmas movie – but it’s great for some serious laughs.

Best lines (there are really too many to count):

• “Santa doesn’t drink champagne. Santa only drinks milk.”

• “I hijacked my (BLEEPING) parents.”

Die Hard (1988)

The Bruce Willis action movie that started it all – a cop goes to his estranged wife’s company Christmas party, and takes on international criminals.

Best line:

• “Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Euro-trash.”


Die Hard II: With a Vengeance (1990)

More Bruce Willis action. Just another Christmas Eve saving the world from terrorists.

Best line:

• “As I was going to St. Ives?/I met a man with seven wives./Every wife had seven sacks,/Every sack had seven cats,/Every cat had seven kit-tens./Kittens, cats, sacks, wives, /How many were going to St. Ives?”


A Christmas Story (1983)

I remember the first time I saw this movie at the show. I immediately thought of my dad as a little boy, growing up in Chicago. One of the national cable stations shows this one for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve – and I still can’t get enough of it. It’s tied with “Christmas Vacation” for my second favorite Christmas movie of all time.

Best lines:

• “No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!” Santa Claus: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

• “Fra-gee-lay. That must be Italian.”

• “Deck the halls with boughs of horry, ra ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra.”

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Clark W. Griswold just wants to have an old-fashioned family Christmas. What’s wrong with that? Apparently, if you’re Clark W. Griswold – everything.

This is probably the most quotable Christmas movie ever – with giggles and belly laughs following every line – especially those involving Clark’s Cousin Eddie. This line pretty much sums up the movie – and many of our feelings after a spending a little too much time with the family:

Best line:

• “Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here.”

Scrooged (1988)

Dicken’s Christmas Carol, turned a bit on its ear. Buster Poindexter and Carol Kane are my favorite ghosts of Christmas present and past ever.

Best line:

• “It’s Christmas Eve. It’s..it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we-we-we smile a little easier, we-w-w-we-we-we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year we are the people that we always hoped we would be.”


Trading Places (1983)

A snobby, rich investor and poor con artist switch places as the result of a bet between two rich brothers, to see whether the good guy goes bad and the bad guy becomes good.

The bet takes its course, until the main characters get together to plot their revenge.

Best line:

• “You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.”


Animated

Those of us of a certain age (ranging between 30 and 50, I would guess without giving myself completely away) grew up just waiting for these animated Christmas specials to come on TV each year.

That’s back when TV specials were a family event. Dad made popcorn, my sisters and I would put on our PJ’s and we’d sit, wide-eyed, in front of the televi-sion.
We could even quote every line and sing every song, even without the benefit of watching the shows over and over on video or DVD.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

You’d have to be a Grinch to not love Charlie Brown and his pathetic little Christmas tree.

Best lines:

• “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

• “Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you are the Charlie Browniest.”

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

I think we’ve all felt like Rudolph, Hermey and the misfit toys at one time or another.

Best lines:

• “Well, some day I’d like to be a dentist.”

• “Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

I confess that I’m so opinionated about Dr. Seuss that I’ve never seen the more recent live-action version of The Grinch. Sorry – you just don’t mess with the Seuss! And you don’t mess with Boris Karloff, either.

Best line:

• “All the Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. The Grinch hated Christmas – the whole Christmas season. Oh, please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or maybe his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the best reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

There was something scary, yet ridiculous about the Burger Meister Meister Burger that made me laugh as a kid.

Best line:

• “Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, unlawful AND anyone found with a toy in his possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon. No kidding!”

Frosty the Snowman

Frosty was a jolly, happy soul. Until somebody melted him. But then Santa saves the day!

Best line:

• “Happy birthday! Hey, I said my first words. But…but snowmen can’t talk. Ha ha ha, come on now, what’s the joke? Could I really be alive?”

COPYRIGHT 2006 BY CHRISTINE LUPELLA.

Posted in Columns

Clean room, parental gloom

I remember dreaming of the day that the floor in my son’s room would be visible, that I wouldn’t need a shovel to clear a path in order to set something on his desk.

A week or so ago, a miracle occurred and my dream came true. The stuff is gone. The only problem: the owner of the room is gone as well.

And I find myself missing the mess every time I walk past his room.

I was almost smug, thinking we’d already launched one of our offspring out of the nest and into college, marriage and even parenthood. We had experience – this time would be easier.

We found out that in this case, experience didn’t matter. We found ourselves caught up in the frantic rush to pack, buy a lifetime supply of soap, shampoo, munchies and other necessities, cram everything into one vehicle – then discover we forgot we needed to fit our 6-foot-2-inch kid in the back seat as well.

We spent a long Saturday driving three hours north then hauled everything he owned up EIGHT flights of stairs (he’s on the top floor of his college dorm, of course), shopped for all the stuff we forgot or didn’t have room to pack, hauled that stuff up the stairs, hauled a metal loft kit up the stairs, put the loft kit together after consulting with numerous other confused parents and their college freshman as to how it actually worked (the directions were useless), found a place for everything, hugged our son and then hit the road for a three-hour drive south.

About five minutes after we left, my mommy world came crashing down. That was it – he was on his own for pretty much everything in a new place.

Without me.

Without his dad.

Without his twin brother or big sister.

In my head and in my heart, I saw the blonde, blue-eyed little boy who filled his days by singing, climbing, jumping, drawing and painting and living in an obviously delightful, imaginary world.

Somewhere along the way, that little boy became a young man who had already determined his own path and was stretching his wings.

I know he’s ready to fly, even if I’m not ready for him to go. He’s doing what we raised him to do, to think independently, to chase his dreams, to work hard, to create his own life.

His brother is doing the same thing in his own time, on his own path, not an easy thing for twins who, by their very nature, tend to be lumped together as one unit. He’s exploring the world, going to school and finding his path. He’s still at home, so the nest is not completely empty. But even with him home – he’s almost never home. So it’s pretty quiet at the old homestead. And his room isn’t as messy as it used to be, either.

One of the most difficult things about parenting is letting go and being able to say, “OK. We gave you all we could and taught you what you need to know. Now FLY!” I want to hang on to their last little bits of childhood, but inside I know that would clip their wings.

I’m learning all over again what it’s like to be a young adult, to choose a path and take tentative steps into my own future. It’s exhilarating to watch my own offspring doing it; it’s exhausting – and a little bit sad – to do it myself, because that means life is changing whether I want it to or not.

It makes me look forward to Thanksgiving – because I know the owner of that really clean room will return – and so will the mess.

And I will embrace them both with open arms.