What I would say if I were Claudia

I’ve said it before (though maybe not in these exact words): 8th grade offers a higher concentration of social confusion, awkwardness and all-around nasty crap than any other year known to humanity. And that’s on its own. It doesn’t need tragedy to make it more challenging.

Today the children at Claudia’s middle school learned that one of their classmates has died. I don’t know anything about the young man or how he died, but my heart aches for his family.

For many of the kids at that school, I’m sure this was their first experience with death. For most of them I’m sure this was their first experience with the death of a peer. And since, as an alleged adult, I’m struggling with categorizing and labeling my own thoughts and feelings on this subject, I imagine that in the hormone-steeped, drama-fueled brains of many of those 13-year-olds, this must be a complete freakout.

Claudia didn’t know this young man very well, but watching other people’s reactions and trying to sort through her own reactions was kind of freaking her out. Not catatonic. Not medication-worthy. Just a little freaked out. So after talking with Corinne and with one of the counselors on site, we decided to let her go home and spend some time processing.

Figuring out “the right reaction” is the heart of that nasty Rubic’s cube we call 8th grade. And evidently one of Claudia’s friends disagrees with the “spend some time processing” approach:photo

No big deal – just run-of-the-mill 8th-grade drama. And, if Claudia really had just clinically seized on a chance to go home and watch The View, I would see her friend’s point. But it got me wondering about the thoughts that must be going through these kids’ heads. And if a friend called me out on that, what would I say? After all, she’s right – Claudia barely even knew the kid.

In fact, I think that’s the point I would keep coming back to…

(Commence dream sequence.)

I barely even knew the kid. And now I never will. I don’t think I ever said more than “hey” in the hall to him – and only half a dozen times at that. What if he had this insanely random sense of humor that no one gets … just like mine? Or what if it turns out he was not only super-smart in math but also happened to have just the right combination of words that would have helped me see the solution to that stupid word problem from yesterday’s assignment?

What if we were supposed to have a class together next year at the high school and start talking and turn out to be best friends? What if that’s the way it was supposed to happen and it didn’t and now it never will? What if he was the one person in the world that I could have told all the crazy things in my head to who would have understood what I was talking about and who wouldn’t judge me about any of it? If he was that one person and he’s gone, does that mean I’m stuck with all this stuff in my head for the rest of my life?

Or what if whatever it was that he was supposed to be had nothing to do with me – but he was supposed to cure cancer or run for President or something? And now he never will. I didn’t know him enough to know WHAT his potential was. But whatever it was, it’s for sure going unfulfilled now.

And what about this “death” thing? There were crying kids at school this morning, whining about “why him”? And, yeah, I want to know that answer. But, to be perfectly honest, half the reason I want to know “why him” is so I can figure out the answer to the real questions that are bugging me: “Why not me? Am I next? Could I be?”

(End dream sequence.)

That would be enough to freak me out a little bit. And if I had the chance, I’d probably opt for taking a couple of hours to go home and spend some time processing. And if any of my friends called me on it, that’s what I would try to explain.

Death sometimes casts an alluring veil of celebrity over its younger victims. And to many a lonely, quiet, misunderstood teen, watching today’s outpouring of tears and reverent respect and affection has to look strangely attractive. Fortunately, thank God, I haven’t sensed any of that in Claudia. I think (and I pray) that she’s aware enough to know that there are people right here, right now who love her. And I think she understands enough about death’s finality to know that it’s a pointless waste of potential and possibility. Sometimes I speculate that her head’s screwed on cockeyed. But I’m so glad that it’s a good head and it’s sitting firmly on her shoulders. I pray as much for the rest of the students at that school over these next few days.

No, no, it’s not you, it’s me

Creative Memories? Come here, sit down. We need to talk. Look, you know I love you, right? I mean, we’ve had a ton of laughs and I’ll never forget some of the special moments we’ve shared (because some of them are carefully preserved in wonderful, quality scrapbook albums). We’ve been together almost 12 years now.

But I think it’s time we split up.

It’s not you, Creative Memories, it’s me. I just need something more in my life right now. No, wait, wait, not “more” – did I say “more”? Because I meant “different”. I just need something different in my life right now. That’s on me. You’re great, Creative Memories. You are.

What’s that? Is there someone else? Look do we really need to do this right here? Okay, okay, yes. Yes, there is someone else.

What do you mean, what does she have that you don’t have? Look, don’t do this. You’re better than this. What? Fine. Well she’s got a helluva daily buffet luncheon. So. There’s that.

I know, we’ve gone through some rough times. And we’ve always been there for each other. Right now I love what you’re doing with yourself with these innovative, incredible plans you’ve got in place. For real. You’re going to burst forth from this more beautiful than ever. You’re going to be fine. You are. I just can’t be there with you.

Huh? Well, she’s a little older than you. She turns 100 this summer. She looks great though. Lots of bricks and shrubberies and stuff.

And you should see her with the kids. She’s just amazing. What? No, not better with the kids than you, just different. You’re great with kids. What was it that noted child psychologist Dr. Kenneth Condrell said? “I think photos and scrapbooks might be a parent’s secret weapon. There are few tools out there that are more powerful or effective in helping to raise confident, happy, well-adjusted kids.”

That’s you, Creative Memories. That’s what you can do for my kids. And that’s awesome. But, uh, see, she has this thing she can do with providing free college tuition after I’ve been there two years (assuming the kids qualify academically and are accepted). And I think a small-college, liberal arts education is going to help them with confidence and happiness too.

Do you know her? Come on, I don’t want to get into this. Okay, okay. After 12 years, yes, you deserve that much. Yes, you do know her.

It’s The College of St. Benedict. I start with the Advancement Communications team right after Memorial Day.

Look, I think you’re one of the most amazing companies in the world and I hope we can still be close after this. In fact, maybe every once in awhile we can get together – freelance – and rekindle a little of that old magic, huh? What’dya think? Okay, too soon. You’re right. Let’s talk later though!

EDITOR’S NOTE: I really am going to miss Creative Memories. Don’t mistake anything I’ve written here for mean-spirited snarkiness. I’m just being a goof. Creative Memories has been great to me for nearly 12 years. But I’m EXTREMELY excited about the new challenge and opportunity in front of me. And I can’t wait to get on campus at CSB and get started! Wish me luck.

Because you can’t spell prom without Mom


Quinn and his lovely date Jenna, grand marching their way into their junior prom.

Wait. Well, yes you can. This headline would really only work if that big dance at the end of the school year was called “prmom.”

And that would be silly. Who wants to go to prmom? It sounds dumb. I can’t even imagine working up the nerve to ask a date to prmom. As if the asking itself wasn’t already enough to treat my digestive tract like a two-week forced confinement upside-down and blindfolded on a Tilt-a-Whirl, now I’d have to worry about how to pronounce the name of the dance.

So this headline is lame. You totally can spell prom without Mom. At least you probably can now. But there was a time when you couldn’t – when you were little and ignorant and couldn’t spell crap. Your mom helped you learn your ABCs though. And with her help you got smart and you learned to spell. And eventually you could spell “crap.” And “damn.” And all kinds of other four-letter words … like “prom.”

Yes. That’s totally what I meant by that headline.

In fact, you should pause right now for a moment of silent, reverent respect for moms everywhere. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

Anyway, I had a point when I started writing this and here it is: “Prom” can be awesome. (So I’m told, though all personal experience points to the contrary.) But “prom on Mother’s Day Eve” comes with its own set of challenges.

Quinn learned that hard lesson the hard way.

“Prom on Mother’s Day Eve” starts out looking like this:

standing thereThen, when you get swept up in the good times and camaraderie, “Prom on Mother’s Day Eve” can lead to things like this:

textBut the problem is, the sun always eventually rises on “Prom on Mother’s Day Eve”. And when your mom expects you back at her house to help host Mother’s Day brunch by 10 a.m., “Prom on Mother’s Day Eve” ends up looking something like this:

wreckedHappy day-after-prom to Quinn. He looked sharp as hell last night and Corinne and I were super proud of him. And happy Mother’s Day to my mom and your mom and my kids’ mom and especially my step-kids’ mom!