I thought I would be all emotional and ugly cry when my son graduated from college, but I felt nothing but relief, elation, and a boatload of gratitude. While I might have sobbed my way through his entire senior year of high school, wiped out by thoughts of his upcoming departure to the coast across the country, my mascara stayed put last week when he walked across the stage and off of it with a diploma in his hands and a gargantuan smile on his face.
Sending your kid to college is challenging. There are a multitude of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that you have to try and understand just exactly how a tiny little fetus on that thin ultrasound paper became a full-fledged, 3-D, real-life baby, then a (destructive) and adorable toddler, an elementary school chatterbox and finally a high school kid with his own mind. This part is impossible to comprehend. I don’t believe we’re equipped to understand time, or at least, I’m not. And so it isn’t unusual to find me sitting with a dumb look on my face, gazing into space and pondering where those smaller versions of my son could possibly have gone. Like is that little boy with the big eyes running around Italy or Sweden? How could he have just disappeared?
Jake is staying on the West Coast for now. My parents were super cool about giving me and my two sisters wings, and telling us we could go anywhere we wanted, but that we always had a home. This gave the three of us a lot of guilt-free freedom (well, I think we always felt guilty, but not guilty enough to go back and live in our small town). My husband and I have given our kids the same free reign. But I’m not going to tell you it’s easy. I miss that damn kid every day.
I have deep and complex emotions about Jake graduating. College so far from us had some major bumps. He didn’t learn the things I thought he’d learn, but instead a whole bunch of other things I’d never considered. He is forging his own path. This is what kids do. They will not learn from your hard-won mistakes, they will make their own and hope they can help someone else, but they cannot because for some reason, this is how the damn thing works!
I am still processing all I feel about my son becoming a college graduate and taking another step toward adulthood. But what I do know for absolute sure is that I am so damn grateful for my boy, and I celebrate this event with scads and scads of pride, love and hope.
My husband tried to fix one of the shelves of the cabinet that contains some of our heavier cookware, and which seemed to be going through a middle aged slump. Further investigation revealed a crack in the side of said cabinet, making the shelf tilt. My husband, being the unhandyman he is (good at many things, house stuff not being one of them) took the shelf out and piled all the stuff on the lower shelf.
This morning I went down and while microwaving the milk for my coffee, I saw that the shelf has, like six cupcake/muffin pans on it. I have not made cupcakes/muffins since my famous spider Halloween cupcakes back in 1999. AND THAT’S WHEN IT HIT ME, I COULD ACTUALLY GET RID OF ALL BUT ONE OF THOSE CUPCAKE/MUFFIN PANS, BECAUSE I NO LONGER HAVE HALLOWEEN SPIDER CUPCAKES TO MAKE BECAUSE NO HALLOWEEN SPIDER CUPCAKE EATERS LIVE HERE ANY LONGER.
And I got a funny feeling in my stomach, which goddamn it, I realized was yet another moment of the kind of reality that hits like a solar eclipse–and that I would rather not look straight at, because I could burn out my eyes, or in this case, soul.
This is what I observe every once in a while–something in the house that I’ve been saving, or leaving out, or holding onto no longer needs to reside here, because it’s really a remnant of another time. A time which has passed, and is, in fact, long gone. Noticing is like a left hook to the gut. It takes my breath away. Because you cannot stop time or reverse it, and these moments of realization put me square inside that fact, and it hurts like having a root canal without novacaine, which you should never do, and I have never done, but I would imagine would hurt as much as having Trump as president.
The transition is happening AGAIN. Jake, home for a visit for the past week, left yesterday morning to fly back to L.A. and do his last semester at USC (that damn first semester at University of Barcelona did not count, thank you so much). I bring Ally to pre-season at Trinity on Wednesday. While their rooms were disgusting displays of all I failed to teach them about orderliness, I am once again going through the upheaval of having them leave again.
Again. Again. Again.
I thought once I adjusted to them being gone, I would be able to check that off my list. But it’s like Groundhog Day, the movie, it just happens over and over again. The shock, the melancholy, the terror that a part of your life has simply gone missing, and that no matter how many you appear on America’s Most Wanted, you will never find it again.
I am grateful for the summer I had with my daughter, who grew up a lot last year, and with who I have never had a better time than these last few months. I am grateful for my son, who although lives in L.A. comes home to see us and spend time with us, and who I believe always will love his hometown.
Today I throw out the cupcake/muffin pans and make more room on the shelf for something new.
My heart feels like the board in a dart game. I am both happy and sad because I love to wrap my arms around him when he arrives. The angels sing and I hear harps. But I hate to do the same when he leaves because I think one of these times I might not let him go, Just. Not. Let. Him. Go. I want to scream “Stay” the entire time he is here. I never do. I never tell him to stay. I might, maybe tell him how much I miss him. But I never tell him to stay.
I say goodbye an hour before he heads to the airport because I have to sleep through the actual farewell. I have to, or I will bust wide open and c’mon, who wants to clean up that mess?
If you think it’s hard to say goodbye when they’re little, and you leave them at pre-school, you will not like this part of parenting much. It’s like the first sip of a cold lemonade on a hot day, but also tending to that bitch of a burn you got drinking that stuff in the sun. It’s the start of a great novel, but the sadness you feel when you get to the last page, too. It’s a day at the beach, but all that sand in your ass when you shower at home.
California is much further away than it should be. Like, is it possible for it to be a little closer? Can someone arrange this? Just like three hours closer. I’m not asking for that much. It’s pretty simple. Anyone? Anyone cover that for me?
They can’t live with you when they’re adults. I know this. They have to grow up. But like, maybe just on this coast? Will he ever come back to this coast? I just wish we were able to shove some food in our mouths together once a week, without having to travel seven hours. You know?
Must be something in my eye. Have to stop writing because of it. Maybe something in both eyes. Something they didn’t tell me about when I was pregnant.
There are (NOT EVEN KIDDING) about 18 pairs of shoes in the hallway. My kids are both home. And while I love that they are here, their shoes, not so much. I have raised shoe whores. They are the Imelda Marcos of young adults.
My son cooked last night after grocery shopping with me, and insisting on buying a cast iron pan. He has been extolling its virtues for days, not hearing me when I tell him that my parents only cooked with cast iron, multiple frying pans hanging on a large butcher’s meat hook next to the stove. He seemed to turn a deaf ear to my knowledge, wanting to teach me, and although I have not used one since I was in high school, the taste of the meat last night was the same as if I was sitting in my parent’s kitchen. I missed that deep, intense flavor those pans can bring. I had to give it to him.
My daughter got herself a job! She is working for a landscaper, and on Friday, she got a terrible stomachache and had to come home before she was done with her work. She has felt horribly guilty about not finishing the day off. That’s a good sign–that she wanted to finish her work. I hate that she was so sick and was in the bathroom half the night, but I like that she felt responsible to her job.
Cooking and working. There is some real progress happening with those people my husband and I made. They are undeniably becoming adults. They are even teaching me stuff now. My mom used to say, “If you live long enough, you see everything.” It’s funny how I could never have imagined when my kids were toddling around in diapers that one day they’d really be people walking around wth jobs and pan obsessions. But here we are. Grateful.
There are things you have to get used to beyond the empty nest, like when the nest fills back up, which is great fun, but then just as quickly empties out again.
As happy as it is to have the kids repopulate the house, is as sad as it is to have them leave. There are transitions on both ends of a visit from the brood.
I look so forward to them coming home. But I also struggle with the rules, the chores, the sleeping schedules. Do I force them to help me with getting the holiday on, or let them rest because they need to catch up on their zzzzzz’s. Do I pretend they have a curfew, when I know and they know they can stay out all night at school. Do I force family fun, or let them be with their friends? I don’t know. I try and go with the flow. Feel it out. Do a combination of stuff like a Pupu platter at a Chinese restaurant.
I used to think parents knew everything. Turns out we just guess half the time. We’re teachers, but we’re also students. We learn as we go along. And we try, we try really hard to get it right.
You must be a chameleon. If you want to be a parent, you have to be a chameleon.
You have to blend in, change with the scenery, figure out how to survive by going with the flow.
Every time Jake leaves, a small section of my heart goes walking out the door with him. Damn, I miss that guy. And L.A. is too far away to jump in the car for a visit. And six hours on a plane does not allow for a casual lunch. Change your color.
The more I parent, the more I learn–when to speak, and when to button my lips. I’ve learned that nagging never works, and that a shopping trip can uncover revelations that might otherwise stay under the covers. I have learned that growing up these days is harder and more complicated, and that if you don’t photograph it, it didn’t happen. I’ve come to understand that the fight for independence can always be abandoned by a plea from the couch for breakfast, a ride, a trip to Bloomingdale’s. I now know how complex birth order is, how it can define and redefine who you are. And I know, have learned, understand that kids love their parents madly, even when they pretend they don’t.
Change your spots, step into the background, make believe you’re not listening. Don’t shriek when an experience surprises you, unless it has to do with firearms. Get your point across in casual ways, leave a note in the eggs if you have to, but don’t say it more than once, or believe me, IT WILL NOT REGISTER. It will be discarded like the chicken you forgot to cook that’s smelling up your whole refrigerator. I have learned the hard way.
Make sure to impart the importance of laughter. And do it together. It’s like Krazy Glue. Family sees the best and worst, and is allowed to tell you what they think, and kiss and hug you when they want. It is required to have one another’s back 24/7, 365 days a year. With family, you are allowed to cry, or get mad, or be wildly and insanely happy, pissy, or gloat-y. But sometimes you just have to be a chameleon.
I am still learning. I still have miles of road to learn. But if you want to understand love, be a chameleon. Be a parent.
I’m not a tiger mom. My kids have been clear about the fact that Peter and I had certain expectations of them, but I have not been a demanding, meany cat mommy. I’ve subscribed much more to the school, and lived in the era, of “prasie your children for breathing” parenting. I still coo when the dog poops (he’s almost seven).
Encouragement is king. But to me, coddling is not so cool. Peter is a bit of a cajoler, while I am more of a straight shooter. I offer praise heartily, but if I have to ask you 57,000 times to walk the dog and you tell me that he doesn’t really need a walk (which has been on his schedule for his whole life), I’m no longer on your side. I think the parent child thing should be a little bit quid quo pro. We do stuff for you and our family, you do stuff for me and our family. That just seems like a good business practice, right?
But like many other parents of my generation, we didn’t demand a whole lot in this area, and I’m here to say that we probably messed up. Yes, indeed. My daughter’s room looks like her brother’s before her, a tornado of clothes on the floor, an unmade bed, papers from school strewn about like tumbleweeds. My son, who’s dorm room, I just saw for the first time this year, is still decorating in early “Pigpen”. Clothes spilling out of the closet, a bed that smells of alcohol (I took a nap in it, and got drunk on the fumes), and shoes all over the place. His poor beleaguered roommate had clothes hanging in his closet, worthy of a spread in Real Simple magazine. Yes, despite my nagging, whining, and yelling about keeping their rooms clean, I might as well have been talking to the grass in the backyard for all the good it did me, or my kids.
I once got an A on an English paper in high school. This was a cause for celebration and I was really proud of myself (I was not an A student, although I should have been). I showed my dad. He held it for a minute, and then said, “I can’t read your writing.” I will never for as long as I live, and well after I die, forget this. But I did go on to become a writer. So there’s that.
Have I failed as a parent not to have taught my children how to responsibly take care of themselves when it comes to their personal belongings? Probably. But what I’ve realized is that there are some things that can only be learned through trial and error. At some point, some roommate, or romantic partner will hate the way my kids fail to tame their mess and things will change. The same goes for Ally’s snide responses to something she doesn’t want to do that we ask her to do, or Jake’s inability to complete a task he knows is important, when he’d rather watch a game, or go to a party. There is, plain and simple, only so much a parent can do. And what we fail at, has to be learned another way–out there in the real world. Is that bad? Should I feel pangs of guilt and like Fiona Failure? I could, but I’m not going to. I’m going to stand by and encourage as the real world responses to their imperfections force them to make some changes, and secretly think in my head, “I told you so.” See, kids get it when they get it. Sometimes it’s because of you, and sometimes it’s despite you.
This weekend was a powerful reminder of how much control you don’t have as a parent. It was the kind of emotionally charged, fight or flight misery that comes from not being able to do a damn thing to help your kids feel better. Ah, but let me back up and give you the full scoop.
Ally is on an elite club soccer team. The girl is great. She is very close to her team. They travel frequently, and are very bonded to one another. The team won the State Cup last year, and after that gave the girls contracts. Some girls got a full year. Some got a half year, with a review. It has been a rather stressful six months for Ally, knowing that every practice, every game, was a chance to show her coach she was a worthy player. Saturday was not only a tournament, but also the day of reckoning.
As I was watching the second game, Jake’s face popped up on my phone. “Mom, I was playing lacrosse and a stick hit me and my helmet cracked and it cut above my eye and my friends are taking me to the hospital for stitches. Just wanted you to know”. His voice was calm. I don’t have to describe my response BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT IT WAS. It was part babbling infant mixed with howling hyena. I did manage to say, “Call me as soon as you’re at the hospital.” I got off and told Peter, who said, “Oh, he’ll be fine.” Immersed in the game, he left me to my psychotic worry. I was already freaked out about the idea that Ally might not make the team, and couldn’t even eat the fabulous lunch a parent had made for us at her house, because my stomach was in the Olympic gymnastics event. Now, I had Jake to worry about. Did he have a concussion? Would the doctors know to do a plastic surgery type of job on him, and not slap together some stitches that would give him a weird scar. I called him over and over again, but he didn’t answer, so I called Jessie, his girlfriend, who I knew could use the magic power of her girlfriend-ness to get through. She calmly told me not to worry and that he was going to be fine. She told me she and her mom would go to the hospital if I wanted, but she said he seemed to be doing ok with his friends, and things were pretty straight forward. (Jessie is the best.) I felt 1% better. I continued to think about leaving and letting Peter and Ally get a ride home with another parent, but decided against it, knowing Ally might need me.
After playing two games in a tournament OUTSIDE, I might add (you know, where there is still SNOW and stuff) Ally stood on the sidelines with her coach to get her review. Peter and I stood several feet away, like statues, observing her profile for any signs of the outcome. Almost immediately, I could tell she hadn’t made it. I knew that the billboards for “Difficult Parenting Ahead” would be popping up any minute. Peter was in disbelief, as all signs had made him think her place on the team was safe. When it looked like they were wrapping up, I forced Peter to go and talk to the coach. I knew if I went over, bad things would come out of my mouth, and I might not be able to control my hands, or feet. Ally walked toward me and one of her other team mates, and told us both the news. She would play down a team for five months and be guaranteed a contract for 2014 on her current team. The coach wanted her to get more playing time, to play the whole game, instead of just 15 minutes, in an effort to improve her play. And although, I saw it as the coach’s commitment to her development as an even stronger player than she already was, it was not a scenario we’d ever considered. And for Ally, it was the first defeat she’d ever encountered. We went to the car and the tears started. There was some wailing. There was some sobbing. There was a lot of snot. Ally did not want to talk. This was hard because that’s all I want to do when something goes wrong for me, but I had to respect her process, so I sat quietly crying in the front seat. Peter drove like a zombie. Ally handed me her phone with a picture of Jake’s gash that was already circulating on Facebook. I have never felt queasy around anything medical, but I actually almost threw up. One inch, maybe less than one inch, and his eye would have been gone. GONE as in not there anymore. No question. One inch lower, and he would have been been blinded.
We sped home from Hopkinton, but not in time to get to the hospital. Jake was already on his way home. He looked very much like he’d been in a fight with Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky, his forehead bulging with swelling, his eye practically shut. They had managed to sew his eyebrow together, and was given the directions not to exercise or do any heavy lifting. (oh great, the garbage was on me now.) I was already sorry he was playing lacrosse this year. As if Ally’s response to her news hadn’t already put me in a state, Jake just iced the cake.
My guilt for not having been there for Jake, AFTER HIS FACE WAS SLICED OPEN, was the size of Detroit, no Texas, no Switzerland (it’s prettier). But the truth was, that he appeared to be calm and ok (unlike moi). He had handled it just fine, was matter-of-fact (but clearly shaken) and taking it in stride in a way that surprised me. He’d had to miss the second playoff BHS basketball game, but as the Super Fan that he is, was following it on his phone like the president follows breaking news. Maybe Jake was ready for college after all. Maybe this was just to show me how ready he was to be on his own, because if this happened next year at this time, I wouldn’t be there either.
Ally continued to cry. She cried herself to sleep and actually woke up crying. I barely slept, I felt so out of sorts, so parentally unproductive, as in I could do nothing to help either one of my kids feel better. The events of the day were on a loop in my find, and kept me up most of the night, until I finally just called it at 5:00 and got up. I was meeting my roommate and old college friend, who I lived on Newbury Street with right after school, for the first time in 28 years, back down on Newbury St. for brunch. I was going to be really cute, what with the crying I did the day before and the no sleep! Anyway, I left Peter sitting with Ally, whose crying had made her look a lot like a blowfish, and who was still sobbing. I considered canceling my plans, but Peter had a way with Ally that made her talk, which I didn’t possess. These two have the most endearing and incredible relationship (which is a whole other post). They are a lot alike and speak the same emotional language. I knew she was in gifted hands.
I didn’t check my phone until after the brunch, but Peter had texted that the coach had contacted him to see if Ally could play the last game in the tournament, because another girl was sick. He said he was going to let her decide. I called him. He said Ally was icing her eyes, and they were on their way. This is how my daughter and I differ. If I were in that situation, I would have folded, and said, no, because I would have been too upset and embarrassed, and plus I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see my swollen eyes, and plus I would have been hating the coach so much, I might not be able to control my words, and also I would be so upset, I might have already enrolled in the witness relocation program. But Ally de-puffed her eyes, got on her cleats and was given a hero’s welcome by her team. She was the starting forward, and scored a goal within minutes of beginning the game. Her entire team embraced her, and she even got a surprise hug from her coach. She came home in a completely different frame of mind, having been supported by every girl, the coach, and the parents, and seeing that that this move was to make her an even stronger player for 2014. This was Ally’s first real bit of adveristy. And while she got a good tear duct workout, she rallied in record time. She’s done a lot of great things in her little life, but this was the most proud I’d ever felt of her. The girl not only has great athletic ability, she has great character.
As for Jake, he looked like a five year old who’d gotten into his mother’s purple eyeshadow on Sunday morning. The swelling was worse, and his eye was almost shut. He sat on the couch all day watching a mix of sports and movies. His fab girlfriend came over, and together we gave Ally a standing O when she walked in the door, high from her success.
This is what parenting can be like. Things happen to your kids, and sometimes there’s not a NUTHIN’ you can do about them. And the pit in your stomach feels like the cast of Riverdance is doing their thing in there. But it’s Monday, and we seemed to have survived. And I think, although we’re all a little wearier, we’re all ok. And most importantly, my kids showed me who they have become. Adults.