Milestones and Umami: Georgia Graduates

umami

So it’s the month of milestones. Birthdays, graduation, change.

Milestones. Groan.

Georgia is graduating from Grade 8. She’s moving into high school. She turned 14 this weekend. I can say it all with a smile but also through gritted teeth.

I don’t know why but milestones are tough for me. Maybe they are for everyone and I’ve just been frightfully unaware, but I find them unbearably tough. Tough to the point of having that irrational desire that (admit it) all rational people occasionally have on hearing the sound of the alarm and the birds in the morning:  pull up the covers and lie there hoping the milestone will just pass and go on its way. It’s not a particularly adaptive desire, and one that I haven’t acted upon. At least not for longer than the snooze button allows.

People get excited about milestones. Understandably. There was an end-of-year concert at Georgia’s school and last night there was the graduation ceremony. Her birthday found us in the backyard, barbecuing and entertaining the wide range of generous, warm people who love her. People keep asking me how great it is for me to have a kid graduating from grade 8. It’s great. Yep.

But I admit that I have a bit of that I-wish-I-was-just-under-the-quilt feeling.

Let me try to explain. Bear with me, dear reader.

Umami.

For many years, we learned that there are four basic tastes: Sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Somewhere about the early 20th century, a Japanese researcher named Kikunae Ikeda figured out that there was, in fact, a fifth taste. Something that wasn’t quite sweet, sour, bitter or salty: a taste that existed on the edges of those four typical taste experiencesand blended some of the things about them into a unique formulation: Umami.

Umami was officially identified and named in 1985 but still remains a mystery to many palates.

Umami is most often described as a “meaty” or “savoury” taste and it is acknowledged that it’s hard to pin down in the same way that we can easily describe and identify “salty” or “sweet”. It’s broader, less specific. It’s something often described as being much more than a simple one-dimensional taste.

Umami is how I feel about milestones. Spring concerts, graduations, birthdays. It might be all mixed up mid-life hormones (so you do know what I’m talking about here) but I have a complete and utter fifth-taste reactions to most milestones. While most people would describe the feelings at their kid’s grade eight graduation as “happy” or “bittersweet” or “proud” or even “excited,” I’m feeling, well, umami. I’m feeling a feeling that I can’t quite find in the thesaurus that is on the edge of all of these feelings and a bit of a blend of them. It’s not as “happy” or as “excited” as I think others want me to be. The feeling is happy, yes and excited — but it is also worry, fatigue, concern, angst, sadness and that feeling of loss and difference I try to push away.

At Georgia’s spring concert, her class of kids with special needs performed a cool choreographed dance to a pop song. She was too giggly, overwhelmed and excited to do many of the moves but did get in a few wild hip-grinding moves that were a little bit more of the new Miley than the old. Everyone is kind and wonderful saying how great she was.And she was. Truly.

I’m proud of her and her accomplishments; this includes her seriously wild and groovy dance moves. But watching other kids half her age singing complicatedly beautiful solos and generating whoops of enthusiasm from genuinely impressed grown-ups, there is a taste of something else at the back of my throat. Umami.

umami

My lovely, lovely kid – like other grade 8 girls – wants to wear a dress and hairband to graduation. I am secretly thrilled. But I know that I’ll feel that inevitable wistful, heartache-y feeling seeing her lined up with the other grade 8 girls who will look and act just so different from her.

I’m used to this. Really, I am – but being used to something doesn’t make it easier. As she grows, her “difference” from other kids in her cohort becomes more and more apparent and the looming shadow of high school opens up that chasm of difference. I want the world to be kind to her when they see that difference, and I worry that the world will not be as kind as I would wish.

I worry that I’m not being a good enough mom for this wonderful and evolving person who is inextricably complex. And who will need the kind of guidance and encouragement that some days I really have to work to generate. I worry about not always showing that I’m  as proud as I am — or expecting more than I should. I worry about how not to compare her to typical kids her age, kids who will now become her companions only in order to fill up their required volunteer hours.

I worry about whether or not she will ever develop real true BFF friendships, one of the greatest things about adolescence. I worry about her being taken advantage of or about her being bullied or teased or worse. I worry about her never being able to read, while her counterparts recite valedictorian speeches in French. I worry that she’s getting a grade 8 diploma and can’t write more than her name. I worry she’ll get lost in the educational system that gets more expansive and more complicated every year she gets older.

I worry about what she’ll do with her grown-up days once her peers have graduated and gone off to university or college or found jobs. I worry about who will take care of her one day when I’m not around. Honestly, I worry about whether or not she’ll ever be able to learn to tie her shoes to get to school. These are the wildly complicated things that will, for a few seconds, take their turn rushing through my head. Right alongside the pride and happiness, as I watch her onstage at graduation. Umami.

Milestones are wonderful things. By their very definition, they are events marking a significant change. They provide reference points along the road of life. And they elicit lots of complicated feelings for lots of people for lots of reasons. Not just me, I know. There are many who would like to do that whole under-the-quilt thing for a whole range of milestones.

But nope. I show up. I cheer her on with a genuine smile. I hold up my iPad just as high as the parent behind me to record her getting her diploma. I cry as much as the mom beside me, who may never know it’s for different kinds of reasons.

I’ll continue to be proud of Georgia’s accomplishments and unique abilities and love her madly.

I’ll try to help the world to be as kind to her as I would wish for. And maybe I’ll also work a bit at washing down the umami with a cold glass of celebratory champagne.

Happy graduation to the kid I love most of all.

umami

Talking Through the Terrible/Lovely Tweens

CONVOS WITH MY TWEEN

In keeping with the recent “Convos With My 2-Year-Old” meme, I submit an array of recent typical conversations with my lovely companion, Georgia.

Some of Georgia’s key attributes include: 1. the ability to find a pointing finger photo-bombing a picture hilarious and 2. the ability to find contentment in eager, tenacious repetition. I’ve provided context for each conversation but you should also know that Georgia also has a tremendous capacity for generalizing these conversations in different contexts.

She’s also at that unique and difficult age – the “terrible tweens.” It has all the characteristics of the early tween years (a craving for independence, the desire to choose everything, a generalized loathing of all things your mother tells you to do). Along with that, it has the characteristics of the terrible twos. The tantrum-like responses, the innate ability to turn mild emotion into something gone completely haywire, the recognition of what helps you get the stuff you want once you realize you actually want something.

Add a bit of early teenage hormones to the mix and … well, you see where I’m going here.

Keep in mind that if I’ve remembered a conversation enough to provide an account of it here, it is VERY likely that I’ve had that same conversation at least six thousand, four hundred and fifty-three times. Or thereabouts.

CONVOS WITH MY TWEEN

Every Single Meal Since Georgia Turned 13

Me: “You asked for juice. Here’s some juice for you.”

[Reader: feel free to substitute “juice” with “cheese” or “milk” or “apples” or “carrots” etc]

Georgia: “No thank you. I don’t like juice. Ummm, I HATE juice.”

Me: “Uhhh, okay. Don’t drink it then. No problem. Up to you.”

Georgia: (eye roll) (lays head on table) (lifts head slowly) *gulp gulp gulp*

Almost Every Single Night Since She Turned 13

Me: “It’s time for bed, Georgia.”

Georgia: “I hate bed. I don’t want to go to bed. I want to PLAY!!!”

Me: (feigning okayness with that) “Okay, well don’t worry about bed then.”

Georgia: “Ohhhh I wanna go to bed! ARGH! I’m so tired!”

Me: “Okay cool, let’s go to bed then if you’re tired!”

Georgia: (falls to floor in a heap) “Oh, I’m so DISAPPOINTED! I’m not tired! I’m dead.”

Dinnertime

Me: “Hey George, your favourite dinner is ready!!”

Georgia: (yell of frustration) “No! I don’t want dinner!! I want to play!”

Me: “Okay well, then, just come when you’re ready. It might be cold, but hey.”

Georgia: “Oh I’m so hungry! I’m sooooo starving!!”

Me: (confused pause) “Well then come. Eat! And then play!”
Georgia: “No! I don’t want dinner! I want to play! I’m soooo hungry! Argh!!!” (head on desk in frustration)

Me: (sigh)

Every School Day Morning at 7:35 am

Me: “Georgia, put your arms in your shirt here.”

Georgia: “The finger in the picture is funny, isn’t it, mommy?”

Me: “Focus. Concentrate. Put your arms in the shirt.”

Georgia: “The pointing finger is SO funny, isn’t it?” (guffaws)

Me: “Arms in shirt, Georgia. You’re going to be late.”

Georgia: “But the finger is so funny, mommy. Yes, it’s so so funny.”

Me: “It’s funny once. Only once. Really. Arms. In. Shirt. Please.”

Georgia: “Oh it’s so funny. Harrison, Harrison, it’s so funny.”

Me: “Georgia, if you don’t get this shirt on, you will miss the bus. Arms in shirt. PLEASE.”

Georgia: “The finger, oh yes, the finger is so funny. And the shopping cart. The shopping cart is SO funny.”

Me: “Huh? What? The shopping cart? Huh? Oh, I don’t know. I guess it’s funny. Sure, yes. Whatever. It’s funny. ARM. IN. NOW.”

Georgia: “The shopping cart fell over. It’s soooo funny. And the finger. The pointing finger is funny. Oh mommy, it’s soooo funny.” (chuckling)

Me: “Yes, it’s funny. Thank you for putting your shirt on.” (tired sigh)

Georgia: “Oooohhhh I don’t want a shirt!!!! I wanted a dress!!!!!”

Every School Day Morning at 7:45 am

Me: “Georgia, you need to finish your cereal. You’re late. Eat a bite.”

Georgia: “When’s the spring concert?”

Me: “You know when it is. We talked about this. Three weeks away. 21 sleeps. Eat your cereal. Eat. Please.”

Georgia: “The spring concert is at 6, right? Right after dinner, right?”

Me: “Eat your cereal, Georgia.”

Georgia: “We’re going to the spring concert, right? After dinner, right?”

Me: “No, you’ll get dinner there. You know this. We’ve been talking about this since February. 21 sleeps. Georgia. Cereal. NOW. ”

Georgia: “Okay, so we’re going to the spring concert tonight, now, after dinner. Good. Chris, you’ll wear a tie.“

On A Recent Road Trip From Ottawa, Somewhere On The 401

Georgia: “Hey, this is just like a bus ride, right?”

Me: “Well kind of, I guess, but way better, I think. It’s our car and not a bus. And you get good music.”

Georgia: “But it’s like a bus ride.”

Me: “Okay sure. I guess.”

Georgia: “It’s like a bus ride. On a ziggy bus!”

Me: “Huh? Sure, it’s like that. I don’t know…What’s a ziggy bus, sweetie?”

Georgia (emphatically): “A ZIGGY bus. This is like riding on a ziggy bus.”

Me: “Um, yeah, okay, but I still don’t know what a ziggy bus is.”

Georgia: “Bob Marley. His dad. A Ziggy Marley bus!”

Looking in the rearview mirror, I see a bopping figure with a smiling face wearing sunglasses, and a reggae-blaring iPod.

CONVOS WITH MY TWEEN

In A Very Large Elevator With Her Mother and A Total Stranger

Georgia: “It’s sooooo squished in here.”

Me: “No, no it’s not really squished. There’s lots of room.”

Georgia: “I’m really squished. And that’s a stranger.”

Me: “Yes, Georgia, that is a stranger.”

Me to Stranger (smiling): “We’re learning about strangers right now.”

Georgia: “You shouldn’t talk to strangers.”