Today is the day our family has been anticipating for months now. Maybe even years, it seems.
My son is leaving for college.
His mother, however, sways dramatically between giddiness that he’s made it this far and sadness at how quickly it all happened.
But I’m mostly giddy.
In the back of my mind is a post I wrote one year ago yesterday, when he was just starting to fill out college applications, take SATs, and dream about where he might be heading this fall.
This particular post is one of my favorites and I wanted to share it here again today for some of my new followers.
It pretty much sums up what I’ve been doing for the past 17 years.
I sit waiting in the small room, my portfolio lying on the desk in front of me. It seems decent enough, filled with pictures and art work, certificates and ribbons. I wonder if there was anything else I should have included that would make a difference. I guess it’s too late now.
Maybe some sort of bribe would help. I wonder if there’s an ATM nearby.
I feel awkward in my fancy skirt, blouse, and pumps; they look like a Catholic school uniform all grown up. I should have worn the same clothes I’ve worn on the job site all these years. There was never a complaint, unless you count that unfortunate clogs-with-skinny jeans incident. At least nobody took pictures.
The door swings open and the interviewer glides into the room, taking the seat across from me. She wears beautiful clothes, flashy jewelry, and not a hair is out of place. Her nails are impeccably manicured without a chip in sight. Her shoes match, she looks rested, and she has no spit/mud/coffee/rice cereal/zit cream stains on her clothes. Why did I have to get the one interviewer who can’t possibly relate to my job?
“Good morning, my name is Miss Dopportunity, and I will be interviewing you today.” She looks down at the stack of papers she has taken out of my file.
“So, I see here that you are nearing the end of your current position as Mother to a High Schooler. My paperwork states that you were on the fast-track, climbing rather quickly through the ranks of Mother of an Infant to Preschool Mother and PTA Mom.”
“Well…,” I stammer, “if you can correct that in the paperwork please, I never requested to be on the fast-track. I really wanted to master each position before being promoted to the next.”
She chuckles quietly, glancing up at me for a moment before regaining her perfect composure.
“There really is no “other” track for this career. True, some of those early days may have actually seemed longer than 24 hours, but in reality the whole career path moves at lightning speed.”
She rifles through the papers a bit more and makes a few notes on them, then fixes her gaze on my portfolio.
“Let’s have a look at what you’ve brought here today.”
I quickly open the large folder, anxious to show her the fruits of my labor (and delivery).
There are baby footprints inked at the hospital, a lock of newborn hair too fragile to handle. Lost teeth, certificates for library summer programs, report cards, and class pictures. Paintings, crayon drawings, necklaces made of dried pasta. Letters from grandparents loved and lost, newspaper clippings, baseball team pictures, autographs of famous people, and movie ticket stubs.
Random reminders of a childhood that slipped through my fingers.
Junk, really. To any other human being who isn’t a mother.
I wonder what she’ll think of the job I did as she sifts through the things with efficiency and tact. I want her to be careful with them, but I hesitate to say anything for fear of sounding rude. Then again, with those fancy fingernails, she might damage something.
Or break a nail.
She stops thumbing through my things and pulls out her notes.
“Now then, I have a few questions to ask you. These are standard questions at this point in your career, but your answers might determine your exit strategy so please think carefully before you answer.”
A tiny sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak leaves my lips. I hope she didn’t hear it.
“Did you let him play in the rain? Catch tadpoles at the creek? Did he see museums and movies, plays and magic shows? Was he allowed to get dirty, taste the snow, wade into the freezing cold surf, bury his sister in the sand?”
“Was he taught to be kind, to think of others? Does he have a pet? Did you make his home a soft place for him to land when he falls? To read? To relax? Chase a dream, develop a passion?”
“Were there scraped knees, bloody noses, toothless grins in Christmas card pictures? Did you tell him about the Great Turkey, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, only to have to come clean later? Did you help him dig to China in the sandbox? Make a dinosaur skeleton out of chicken bones? Finger-paint in the house?”
“Did you ever just sit and watch a field of cows graze, hang out in the backyard hoping to see a shooting star, look for owls, go fishing at dusk, or hike an incredible hike? Was he ever allowed to spend the day in his jammies, eat ice cream for dinner, or just sleep until noon?”
“Did you enforce the rules, dole out punishments, make him apologize, send him to his room? Did he have to make amends, write thank-you notes, remember to say “please”, and be nice to teachers?”
“Can he tie his own shoes, pack a suitcase, use a payphone, schedule an appointment, brush his teeth, make his bed, keep track of his own money, build a campfire, open a small carton of milk, mow the lawn, pump himself on the swing, ride a bike?”
She pauses here, giving me a chance to take it all in. I am so nervous, feeling that there must have been something that I overlooked, one or two major steps along the way that I neglected to take. I nod my head, maybe a bit too tentatively, and wait for her to pepper me with more questions.
“Well then, it seems that everything is in order. You still have some time remaining in your current position, but I am recommending that you be considered a candidate for the next level, Mother to a Young Adult. I will forward the paperwork sometime in the next few months.”
I am stunned. Shouldn’t there be more questions to ask? Maybe a lie-detector test?
“That’s it, that’s all you need from me? Are you sure? How can you really know that I’ve done my job well enough to move on? How will I really ever know? Is there a salary increase with this new level? What about vacation pay? Does this skirt make my butt look big? How do we really know that Humpty Dumpty was an egg?”
She stands up and smoothes out her skirt, pushing her chair back in as she heads for the door. As she reaches the door she stops, turns, and looks me in the eye.
“This career is what you make of it. There are no right and no wrong answers. What you do with it is your choice. Once you are promoted to the next level, there is no going back. The hours can be pretty crappy, the pay is lousy, and your insubordinates can be, well, insubordinate. But don’t get me wrong; this is a lifetime career. The positions may change along the way, but you will always be employed.”
She walks out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.
I slowly gather my treasures and put them back into the file folders, ready to return them to the drawer at home. No ribbons or certificates for me here today, not even a candy bar or a pat on the back.
But I do a little happy-dance, just because I can.
The rewards of motherhood are immeasurable, and can’t be compensated with cash, prizes, or chocolate.
I will never know for sure if I did a good job, but I do know that I did my best.
And I’m pretty sure I’ve earned that promotion.