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My cheerfulness sounds forced to me as I chatter incessantly on the way to the airport. There is little traffic, and for once I wish for a delay, just a short delay so I can sit beside my son a little longer. I pull up to the terminal and get out to say goodbye, wrapping my arms around him and wishing him a safe flight. Don’t forget to text me when you land, I call out. I watch as he lugs his bag over the curb and makes his way to the entrance. He turns to wave, then disappears into the crowd of holiday travelers. adult son, airport, Philadelphia, luggage, travel, international, airplane, leaving

And with that, the last of my three children has left the family nest for a home many miles away.

I come back to a house that is much too quiet, devoid of the shrieks of laughter, good-natured ribbing and late night comings and goings that marked my children’s stay over the holiday season. My husband is already going from room to room, picking up a stray sock or an empty soda can, getting our house back in order. Tomorrow I will return to my normal routine, but tonight I will wallow in a bit of sadness.

My son and two daughters have grown up to be delightful young adults, funny, thoughtful, affectionate. We have great times together.

Problem is, we just don’t see each other all that often.

For the past six years my son Evan has lived in England, a whopping 3,500 miles from our home outside Philadelphia.

Last June my daughter Emily moved to Montana, just a hop, skip and a 2,200 mile jump from home.

And Laurie, my youngest, lives the closest, just 100 miles away. But it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if her next move takes her just as far away as her siblings.

Where our children get this wanderlust, don’t ask me. I’m pretty much a homebody who thinks the best part of a trip is coming home, and my husband feels the same.

I’m reminded of the lyrics sung by Carole King: “So far away, why doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” Families used to stay together, sometimes out of necessity but other times just because … well, because that was home. For some, multi-generational households made sense, financially and otherwise. Growing up, most of my relatives lived nearby.

My husband and I raised our family just an hour from my hometown where my parents still reside. In my mind, that’s the way things should be. An hour away is about right.

Not so with my children.

My husband is sympathetic, to a point. He misses them, too, but is adjusting quite easily to being an empty nester. I have mixed feelings.

In a way, I would prefer my little chickens to repopulate the coop. But I know that’s not the way it should be.

Because as much as I miss them, I am proud of them for being self-confident, ambitious and adventurous. I admire their sense of independence. I love that they are savoring new experiences and learning about different parts of the world. Knowing that they are healthy and happy and living life to the fullest is truly the best feeling a parent can have.

And in their absence, new technologies have given us many unexpected ways to stay in touch. If we can’t reach out and hug each other, Skype, Facebook, texting and Instagram are the next best things.

I don’t know when we will be together again, but we’ve got their rooms ready. Just in case.

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Procrastination and denial are the culprits. This is a post that can wait no longer, with the official debut of the fall season tomorrow. Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to summer.

Sigh.

Our summer weekends are pretty damn wonderful. My family has a beach house on the New Jersey coast, “down the shore,” as the vernacular goes. Just two hours away is our beloved getaway. My husband and I, and assorted other relatives, relish our summer weekends of pure relaxation.

This is not a razzle dazzle beach community. No boardwalk, no shopping district, few good restaurants. That, along with my no makeup/no hair care policy makes for a quiet weekend of eating, drinking, spending quality time with family and best of all, getting engrossed in a good book for hours.

Duncan and I take early morning walks on the beach. The sunrises are extraordinary.

He zonks out after our walks …

and I move on to the next item on the agenda.

And that is pretty much the extent of it.

Reluctant to bid a final adieu, we lucked out when Mother Nature graced us with glorious September weekends that extended the summer just a bit. Which brings me to the lost keys.

Our plans last weekend were to spend the day in NYC and head down the shore at the end of the day. Daughter Laurie and her friend would be spending the weekend with us but wanted to leave earlier in the day. Could we give her the key, she asked.

We did. We went off to do our thing in the city. The key? She lost it. She lost it.

I almost lost it.

How do you lose something that you’ve had for no more than 15 minutes and fail to recover it? She and her friend looked everywhere, ransacked the apartment, to no avail.

Fortunately, another key existed, hidden in a safe spot at the beach house. No, I won’t tell you where. Laurie and friend were able to get in the house, and we joined them a few hours later.

The weekend was lovely, and we hated packing up on Sunday, but it was time to go. On the way home we stopped at Wegmans for some groceries. We got back to the car and I waited for Pete to unlock the door. And waited.

“Where’s the key?” he asked me.

“I don’t have it. I gave it to you.”

He emptied every pocket. Nothing. He retraced his steps, but no key. How does somebody lose a key between the grocery store and the car? Do you see a pattern here?

“Maybe someone turned it in,” Laurie offered.

And indeed someone had. Relieved, we got back in the car and headed home as night began to fall.

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I’m pretty sure I will never be a rock star. I will not experience the jolt of adrenaline pumped by the roar of an adoring crowd, nor be whisked past fans clamoring for an autograph. No photos of me will be emblazoned on the front pages of international press. Ebullient family and friends will not share the story of my meteoric rise to fame with everyone they know.

No, that is not my life, but it was that of my son Evan, albeit briefly, with his appearance in the London 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony. You can read about his road to the Olympics here.

What was it like being part of the magic? Months of rehearsals in soggy London had come down to this, this spectacular night when the Olympic Games would be ushered in with style and panache for all the world to see. Here is the final rehearsal schedule:

The buzz had been building steadily about the event, although the participants largely kept the secret. Evan had told us very little about what was to come. But we knew with legendary director Danny Boyle in charge, we were in for a treat. Here he is giving directions at one of the rehearsals.

“He made each one of us feel like we were an important part of the event,” Evan said. “Everyone felt a sense of ownership, a ‘we’re in this together’ feeling. I was blown away by how thoughtful and intelligent he was. Every volunteer would tell you that Danny Boyle is personable, down-to-earth, involved and caring.”

Evan was in the Industrial Revolution segment, and here is his group getting into costume and makeup.

This is how he looked:

My normally articulate son has found it difficult to put the experience into words. “To sum up the experience is so hard. We spent six months practicing in the rain, in the cold, every weekend. There were times when we wondered if it would be worth it.”

After all these months of intense rehearsals, “we knew this was the last time we’d be together,” he said. We were excited for the show, but also felt a bit of sadness knowing that this amazing experience would soon be over.”

Backstage with the NHS nurses …

Back home, our family gathered around the TV to watch, and lo and behold, there he was! For a fraction of a second, perhaps, but that’s him, that’s my boy! Third from the left with the suspenders and rolled up sleeves.

The sky was aglow from the rings.

And in the wings, the athletes were waiting to go on …

Here is O Canada …

At the end of the unforgettable night, a ride home in the Tube with the NHS nurses …

This story has already become legendary in our family, and my rock star son will be telling it to his children and grandchildren someday. Will we see him in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics? I would not be surprised in the least.

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(Cue the booming drum) DUM, DUM, DUM, DUM …

(Cue the bugles) Dum, dum, de dum dum dum dum, dum dum de dum ….

Allow me to translate. That, my friends, is the thrilling and iconic Olympics refrain, which is giving me goose bumps even now. BECAUSE MY SON EVAN IS IN THE OLYMPICS!!

Is he a champion swimmer, you may be wondering. Does he run the 500 meter dash? Can he lift massive dumbbells above his head and grunt louder than Maria Sharapova in a tie-breaker?

My son, while gifted in  many ways, is not an athlete. Well, not an Olympics-qualifying one. BUT what he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in chutzpah. This cheeky chap, my first-born child, is in the Opening Ceremonies.

Evan lives in London and noticed a link on the London Olympics 2012 website for applying to be a volunteer. Thinking, what the hell, he clicked away and, long story short, he and 14,999 other hopefuls were invited to audition. “We were taught a dance en masse,” Evan said, “and then broke into groups of 10 and had to perform it in front of everyone as well as a panel of seven judges. For a non-dancer, it was pretty nerve-wracking!”

The number was whittled down to 4,500, and he made the cut. Rehearsals began in early May, and now, with just weeks left until the Games begin, the frequency of the rehearsals has ramped up to three times a week, roughly eight hours each time.

“The director, Danny Boyle, has been at every rehearsal and is very hands-on,” Evan said. “He speaks in soaring metaphors that somehow work and often goes off on metaphysical tangents which lead you to believe he’s either much deeper than us normal folk or much better at making up stories. Probably a combination.”

You may remember that Danny Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle and Evan

Although he won’t yet reveal the details, Evan said that his group of 1,500 performers will appear in the first 15 minutes of the show. I’ll let you know more when he clues me in (he’s been sworn to secrecy so far). He won’t get special access to any of the events, but was able to snag tickets to many of the events, including the gold medal basketball game.

As the Games get closer, the excitement and anticipation are building. “It’s been draining so far,” he confessed. “My section has had the most rehearsals and I haven’t had a day off between work and this since the middle of May. However, since we moved into the stadium two weeks ago, adrenaline is kicking in. We’re starting to see the technology and pyrotechnics woven into our scene. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Through it all we tell ourselves that on July 27 we will be in the center of Olympic Stadium as 80,000 cheer us on and 2.5 billion around the world watch us. That’s what keeps us going back to rehearsals.”

He added, “I think it’s going to be extraordinary. I just hope I don’t trip.”

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On a sunny day last May, the newly-minted graduates tossed their tasselled caps in the air with whoops and hollers. With that, my daughter Laurie and the other members of the Class of 2011 closed one door and turned expectantly toward another. What was on the other side? For some, the promise of a job or graduate school.

For others, the door creakily hinged shut, putting new beginnings tantalizingly out of reach.

The members of the Class of 2011 had been raised to believe that they could do anything with a college degree. Follow your dreams, we parents told them. The world is your oyster. With that diploma you will have opportunities galore.

The economy of 2011 told them something else.

The misery of finding a job in a sluggish economy was a lesson in Real Life 101.  Item #1 on the syllabus: there aren’t a lot of jobs out there. Item #2: you’re one of a gazillion vying for the jobs that are. Item #3: get used to trying your hardest and coming up empty. Get used to not having your calls returned. Get used to waiting.

Being the highly organized person she is, Laurie started her search months before graduation.  She sent out countless resumes. Checked job websites daily. Spent hours researching, reaching out to friends of friends whose cousin’s neighbor worked somewhere where they were hiring. And I won’t tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing came of it.

There were some clunkers offers along the way. Yet despite being in the throes of anxiety, Laurie trusted her instincts and was wary.

For example, she encountered:

* a “marketing/advertising” company whose website boasted its rapid growth, multiple office locations and plans for further expansion. She was interviewed for a marketing associate position. Sounded perfect, too good to be true. And it was. At the end of a long day of interviews, she was told she would be selling the services of a utility company. Door-to-door. In questionable urban neighborhoods. No salary, just commission. And no benefits. Um, no.

* a well-known international finance corporation that invited her to interview for a financial analyst position. The first interviews went well and she got called back. In the course of the second round, she was pressed to reveal her family’s financial circumstances, what neighborhoods her relatives and friends called home, which prominent families were in her circle from high school and college, etc. Noooo, thank you.

* an insurance company with locations throughout the country that offered her a position right on the spot. What was the catch? Again, no base salary. Strictly commission. :sound of buzzer:

Her dogged pursuit meant hours each day browsing new openings, following up with emails and phone calls, and continuing to network every which way. She tried to be positive, but sometimes it just got to be too much. The waiting was awful and it really sucked to be back at home, living with her parents, as if college had never happened. Thank goodness for friends like Cassandra who freely dispensed encouragement and hugs.

But I am happy to tell you that her persistence paid off. After many months and many interviews, she was offered the job she had wanted more than anything, in the city she wanted to live in. In the end it worked out exactly the way she had dreamed.

To the recent grads, and even not-so-recent, who have yet to land a job: hang in there. May 2012 will be a year of recovery, healing and promise. My CNN email alert just announced that the U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in December with the unemployment rate falling slightly. Believe in yourself, and believe in your future.  Your college education was worth it. And the best is yet to come.

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Mom Revisited

I nod with a knowing smile at my young mother friends who throw up their hands at the latest crisis with their children. Is it bed-wetting, pink eye, inability to play nicely with others? Mark my words, I say, you will blink and all of a sudden they’re grown up. This is what older women used to tell me when I was a young mother and I thought they didn’t know what they were talking about.

How fleeting those years would be I could not understand, not with a fretful, colicky infant who screamed himself into exhaustion night after night. I remember wishing those years away, wanting him to grow up.

Now I would give anything to go back in time to savor every moment a bit longer. My little boy grew up way too fast, and now he lives halfway across the world. I miss him so much.

Evan is here for a visit now, and as an added bonus, three of his buddies flew in for a few days. The house has been  bustling with 24/7 hubbub: deep guy voices talking football and trash, late night pizza deliveries, ping-pong matches, clothes and electronic devices scattered throughout. Tantalizing aromas of home cooked hearty casseroles and peanut butter cookies waft through the house. I fill the dishwasher, empty it. Rinse and repeat.

I have loved every minute. Gerry, Mike and Dan are now officially our adopted sons and have an open invitation to come back anytime.

The guys holding tickets to the Eagles/Cowboys game — Gerry, Evan, Mike, Dan

Evan gave them the grand tour of our fair city, Philadelphia. They sampled cheese steaks and hoagies until they could eat no more. They also went to a Halloween party.

My son, the rabbi, second from left

Today, as they all board their various flights, I will be straightening up the house, throwing a few loads of laundry in the wash, reheating the leftover baked ziti for dinner. And missing the guys a lot.

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“Mom,” the voice quavered through the crackle of the international connection, “I’ve got some bad news.”

Surely anyone hearing those words from a loved one would react as I did: a sharp intake of breath, a lump in my throat thudding into the pit of my stomach, palms sweating.

Whatever pronouncement would ensue, a reassuring hug would not be imminent. My 25 year-old daughter, Emily, was in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the month of July, volunteering as a medical assistant at a local clinic. Bolivia. Three long plane flights away.

I had a flash back to last winter when Emily began talking about it. “What a great opportunity,” she had enthused. “I’ll feel like I’m really making a difference. And I can improve my Spanish, too.”

Although I deeply admire my daughter’s altruism, to say that I was less than thrilled is putting it mildly. I pointed out the litany of negatives: poverty, diseases, unsanitary conditions, political unrest. Was there political unrest? I wasn’t sure, but I went with it.

So she launched into a full-court press, peppering my inbox with upbeat articles about up-and-coming Cochabamba. Even the venerable New York Times had touted the area as a “must see” for adventurous travelers.

I still wasn’t convinced. Just scanning the list of recommended vaccinations gave me the willies.

“Em, do you understand the risks?” I argued. “Malaria. Snakes. Big insects. What if you get bitten?’

This is, in fact, what she was calling to tell me. She got bitten. But not by a bug.

By a monkey.

Dear reader, do not apologize for suppressing a giggle. I confess to a fleeting notion, a teeny tiny thought in a remote recess of my brain, that there might be an element of humor in this scenario. But that impulse quickly gave way to panic. My mind was clicking as I began to ask questions and process what needed to happen.

Does it hurt? Not really.

Did you see a doctor? No, there weren’t any doctors.

Did you get any medical attention? I went to a pharmacy and got antibiotics.

When can you leave? As soon as possible.

I told her to start packing while I called the airline.

What I would learn later was that Emily and a few friends were visiting a nature preserve outside of Cochabamba. This Bolivian version of Great Adventure served as recreation and entertainment for the locals. Swarms of people — including tons

of noisy kids — hiked on its trails. Monkeys roamed freely and, accustomed to the sounds and movements of humans, interacted calmly with the visitors. Until my daughter arrived, that is.

What turned this serene simian into a pernicious primate was likely Emily’s decision to crouch down to monkey eye level. With a monkey mama and baby nearby, this was a Bad Idea. SCREECH! SCREECH! The monkey alarm system was activated. As if in a scene from a horror version of The Lion King, an alpha monkey grabbed a tree and started shaking it violently. A hush shrouded the onlookers. The only sound was the ominous rustling of leaves. Monkey minions lurking nearby looked up with interest. One by one, they muttered their displeasure. The chattering intensified. Emily’s monkey friend, just a couple of feet away, bared his teeth in a fearsome grin, lunged toward her and sank his teeth into her calf.

She screamed. He gripped her leg. She tried to pry him off. What seemed like hours was probably less than a minute, but he finally released her. They glared at each other (another Bad Idea, for those of you who might be in monkey company some day). She backed away and slowly headed down the trail. Her attacker followed for a few steps, then thought to leave well enough alone. He probably strutted proudly in front of his bare assed buddies back at the ranch.

At times like this, you think about what could have been, and you are thankful for escaping with minimal damage. I was able to get my daughter on the next plane home. It was a grueling journey, but she was seen by our local doctors just 48 hours after the incident, and except for the painful rabies shots she endured, with more to come, she is doing fine. Despite everything, she has fond memories of her sojourn in Bolivia.

And now … we can all smile.

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