Ode to a Peanut Butter Sandwich

peanut butter sandwichYour relationship with my son has been reliable, stable.

Always there, in that reusable Tupperware container in the bottom of the backpack.

Day after day, Monday through Friday.

Never on a weekend. Weekends are made for hot dogs or soup; for grilled cheese or leftover pizza.

Oh, there have been others before you.

I recall a particularly expensive phase of roast beef in fourth grade.

Several dalliances with a school lunch purchase; maybe a tempting order of Beef Nachos or Mini Cheeseburgers. Relationships that soured almost the moment the food crossed his lips.

And then you came along, simple and easy. Two ingredients, that’s all.

Whole wheat bread. Smooth peanut butter.

And suddenly, there was no other.

Somewhere early on in middle school, the relationship became exclusive. I was a willing enabler after a while, admittedly because you were easy.

I’m not ashamed to admit that, really.

So for the past seven years we’ve met each morning at the kitchen counter; danced our dance with a knife and a few crumbs.

Over 1,200 times, at last count.

But it’s over now; it’s time for me to let you go.

This morning was our last rendezvous by the pantry, the last time we’ll create crumbs together in an attempt to provide brain food to a busy high school kid.

I wish you well.

And while you and I won’t be together anymore, there’s still hope for you.

You might find yourself in a dorm room come September.

Dress Me Up Again

Whether you have a little boy or a little girl, at some point during their childhood they will play dress-up.

For most kids, their first experience with dressing up involves a Halloween costume. Their first, second, and possibly third Halloweens are usually marked with a costume of the mom’s choosing.

This may or may not always blend with what the child wants.

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, Halloween arrives so quickly we aren’t really prepared with the perfect costume.

There may have been several costumes in my house that were simply a result of what I had lying around and how much hot glue I had left.

Don’t judge.

Halloween costumes in our house always went on to a second life that began each November 1st. They were relegated to the playroom, often dismantled with scissors, embellished with tape and pipe cleaners, and took on a whole new life.

We’ve had Star Wars heroes and villains created from a Harry Potter robe; knights and ninja guys cloaked in a former vampire’s cape; brain surgeons and mad scientists wearing the white coat from the Bill Nye the Science Guy costume.

Fairy wings have turned into butterfly wings; princess gowns became wedding gowns; and the dog costume I sewed from scratch 15 years ago has been turned into everything from a lion to a cow.

I thought my kids were both beyond dressing up anymore.

But last week, two new dress-up outfits appeared in my son’s room.

A black graduation cap and gown, complete with 2011 black and gold tassel.

A tuxedo for the Senior Ball.

I thought we’d moved beyond dress-up.

But these outfits, these clothes made for grown-ups, they won’t have a second life in the playroom.

No Power Rangers, no ninja guys, no Mario or Luigi.

They are clothes intended to transport my son from the dress-up and playtime days to more adult pursuits.

College and the life of a young adult.

They say that clothes make the man.

But sometimes, I would love the clothes to make him into a boy again.

Maybe just for a day.

Photo Finish

boy running on beach

The visions flash past my mind’s eye so quickly, then disappear.

Like I’ve dropped a huge box containing still photos of my children’s entire childhood. The photos are scattered all around me in my mind, the wind whirling some of them almost out of reach. I grasp for them, trying to hold onto them all, but it’s almost impossible.

I see them as individual frames cut from an old video; still photos so faded I can barely make out the memory attached.

My mind is cluttered with them as of late, so I try to mentally gather them and sort them into virtual boxes.

One box is navy blue with tan trim, filled with awards and letters of recognition, ribbons from science fairs and photography shows, Boy Scout badges, and baseball trophies from long ago.

Not much room left in this one.

The other is a trendy pattern of pink and black, maybe a few neon green stars thrown in here and there. Certificates of achievement, awards, drawings, pictures of friends, and soccer trophies fill this one.

Still some room left for prom dresses and a few more trophies.

In these pictures in my mind I see birthday parties with pinatas and sippy cups. First steps and shiny Christmas shoes. A backyard strewn with toys; kids running through the sprinklers on an intensely hot day.

Bodies buried in the sand at the beach, with toes sticking out and faces in full grin. First triumphant rides on tiny bicycles. Camping trips with s’mores and dirt-smeared faces.

Toothless grins, tears over a first haircut, one year-old faces covered in cake, a tiny arm in a pink cast.

Glasses, braces, buzz cuts in the summertime, awkward bangs pushed aside with barrettes as they grew out. Pants with holes in the knees, fancy dresses, the first time he wore a real shirt and tie.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve missed something.

These memories that cloud my mind, prevent me from getting things done, threaten to bring me to tears at a moment’s notice? They also make me painfully aware that childhood is finite. It slips through your fingers like fairy dust, almost imperceptible as it happens.

As you’re doing the laundry, checking the homework, making the meals, paying the bills, and doling out punishments it’s happening.

There are no do-overs.

So what if I did forget something? Was there a first something that I didn’t remember? An adventure I neglected to schedule? Whatever these things were, they seem to be lost and buried in the sea of photographs in my mind.

And if I did forget something, I’ll never know.

I am so fiercely proud of my children, of the people they are becoming, and of the direction their lives are heading. This is all their achievement, their hard work, theirs to savor.

So if I did forget something, I’m hoping it was small.

And I will keep searching the memories to see if I can find it.

This is College?

When I was in college, during that time commonly referred to as back in the day, there were certain things we came to expect.

Things that helped us have a more predictable existence in our daily lives, even though the chaos of college life was part of the fun.

We knew that the pork served in the cafeteria for Sunday dinner had a certain rainbow-hue to it when exposed to sunlight. It became known as Rainbow Pork, and when paired with mashed potatoes and green beans it was enough to make you miss mom’s home cooking.

Even if mom wasn’t that great of a cook.

We knew that the greatest distance traveled in the shortest amount of time was between your dorm room and the cafeteria at 11:59am on a Saturday morning.

Because they closed at noon.

You knew that your first-year dorm room would be exactly the same as everyone else’s: concrete block walls, tiny closet, and a window with a view of the dumpsters.

But college seems to have changed in the three decades few short years since I first matriculated.

After visiting two of my son’s final choices last week, college is looking a bit more like that vacation I never find time to take.

The cafeterias serve meals that make my inner Rachel Ray hang her head in shame.

Dishes like Pad Thai Noodles w/ Sweet Chili Sauce, Roasted Pork Loin w/ Tapanade, Curry Chicken with Spicy Dahl, Portobello Mushroom Fajitas, Sushi, Rotisserie Chicken, and Spinach Feta Pizza.

I thought Dahl was an author. Apparently, he’s also a soup.

Food like this will most certainly not make my son wistful of those meals just like mom used to make.

And places to eat on campus? They’re everywhere, and something is always open.

Which takes some of the thrill out of the whole dining experience; that tiny possibility that they will lock the doors before you get there and you’ll go hungry for four hours.

And the dorms that my son will live in if he chooses one particular campus? They have elevators and windows with a view of the ocean.

The Pacific Ocean, people.

I don’t even reserve ocean views on vacation, and I’m paying for him to have one every day?

They have cable TV, wireless Internet (I had a typewriter), shuttle bus service (I had a bike), swimming pools, rock climbing walls, coffee shops, and a Round Table Pizza/Subway/Burger King on campus.

I am seriously considering a Master’s Degree.

Root Bound

Warm spring weather and weeding seem to go hand in hand.

Stormy, wet weather last week left the ground soft and damp, more willing to let go of those weeds that seem to have grown from nothing.

I slip into my flip-flops and grab my weed bucket. The spring sun bounces off the white concrete patio out back, making me shade my eyes.

When I have a lot on my mind? I pull weeds. The physical activity helps me relax and it’s completely mindless. I can sort through issues, juggle solutions, and have imaginary conversations in my head with people I need to talk to.

As I move through each section of the yard I can see my progress. Beautiful plants with buds and shiny new leaves have room to show off now with the weeds gone.

It feels good to see that I’ve actually accomplished something.

Over near the rose bushes, growing right out of the gray landscaping rocks, I notice a huge weed, probably about four feet tall. I’m surprised I haven’t seen it from the kitchen window.

How could something grow so large without my noticing?

I kneel down, position my hands firmly around the base of the weed and pull.

Nothing.

Roots are deep on this one, winding way down into the rocks and crowding up against the piece of wood between the grass and the rocks.

There’s no more room for it to grow here.

I reposition my hands and twist the base around a bit, hoping to jar it loose from the rocks.

Nothing.

I move a few of the rocks that have roots coiled around them and dig my fingers deep into the soil to loosen this death-grip on the weed. The roots are soft and silky, and there seem to be hundreds of them.

I don’t want to pull too quickly and risk leaving some of the weed behind. A slow, even tug should do the trick.

And with a final pull, using my body as a balance, the soil gives up and lets the weed go.

Victory.

One last glance around the yard before I gather my thoughts and tools and finish for the day.

As I head inside to start making dinner, I see the acceptance letter still sitting open on the counter.

Congratulations! It is with great pleasure we offer you admission for Fall 2011…..

My son has grown and flourished in our home, but to grow further he needs to make that next step.

His roots have grown and spread, pressing up against these four walls.

And I will try my hardest to yield to the pulling, to let him go.

It feels good to see that I’ve actually accomplished something.

These roots go deep.

But they can also bend.

Exit Interview

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 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? Fingerpaint in the house?”

“Did you ever just sit and watch a herd 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.