Family Tree

The tree might have been the real reason we bought this house.

A massive Chinese Elm spreading long, graceful branches over the grass and the gravel area beneath it.

To anyone else, the yard might have seemed plain or ordinary. There were no stone retaining walls or peaceful waterfalls; no fancy covered deck with seating areas or fire-pits; and even the plants were non-descript.

But to the mother of a two year-old boy, this yard was a magical place just waiting to be discovered. Somewhere to run or to drive a Cozy Coupe; to be a superhero, pirate, or knight; to splash in kiddie pools and eat popsicles in the heat of the summer.

The tree held this magical place in a massive hug of shade during the hottest parts of a summer’s day.

Sold.

When you take a little boy who has lived in a small condominium with no yard and unleash him onto a quarter-acre lot his world suddenly becomes quite a bit bigger.

Over the course of the next fifteen years, the tree shaded several kiddie pools, playhouses, and teeter-totters; a sandbox and a fort; countless backyard birthday parties and endless rounds of summer popsicles; two crazy puppies and a little girl reading her treasured books. It has supported pinatas and a rope swing; bird nests and squirrels running amongst the branches.

Two little kids have grown before my eyes in the shade of that tree.

Yesterday my son was outside doing some yard work when he first noticed it.

A huge vertical crack down the trunk of our tree, almost breaking the trunk in half. It was so deep, I could have put my whole hand inside.

This huge branch, such a critical part of our tree, had been trying to split away for some time now without us noticing.

And now, suddenly? This branch was ready to go, the massive tree no longer able to hold on.

Like my son, who had already been busy that morning.

Hey, I thought I might start packing up some things in my room. You know, get a head start for September when I leave for college…

And I was powerless to stop it.

If I didn’t act quickly and the trunk let go too soon, the branch would hit the house and cause a lot of damage.

My eyes were teary. I felt sick inside and certain that we couldn’t save the tree; that this part of our home I had loved so much would be cut down and turned to mulch. Nothing but a memory from here on forward.

Nothing but the memories.

I made a pile of things to get rid of before I leave; you know, stuff I’ve outgrown or don’t want anymore…you can look through it if you want.

The arborist came and carefully examined the split, making notes and giving advice.

It would take all afternoon and a crew of seven men, but he felt that they could save the tree.

Finally I could catch my breath. I hadn’t realized just how much this particular element of our home meant to me.

Where the huge branch once grew now there is a raw scar, glaring at me out the kitchen window. A reminder of what once was, which will heal over in time.

And without it, the tree will still thrive.

I’m taking this duffel bag with me, so I can pack enough clothes for my visits home…

And go on to the next round of adventures beneath it’s shade.

Pomp and Circumstance

Granada graduationI almost don’t recognize him as he walks down the hallway from his bedroom.

Long black gown adorned with honor cords; black cap and 2011 tassel in his man-sized hands.

He’s ready to go.

His graduation is the end-result of spelling tests and learning cursive; of sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the rug and using his listening ears.

Of years of group projects, PowerPoint presentations, and cramming for finals; of early-morning alarm clocks and the pounds of heavy books he carried on his back.

And while somewhere deep inside me I can feel the tears, as he stands before me now I just feel pride.

The tears can wait for now.

Truth be told, there were tears earlier in the day. Pre-emptive tears, shed while dusting the family pictures and feeling mournful of the little boy smiling back at me from the frames.

I offer him a ride to the school, so we won’t have too many cars there when the ceremony is over.

Always logical, this mom.

The first time I left him in this parking lot, I watched him walk in with his backpack loaded and new shoes, ready to take whatever high school was ready to throw his way.

I can’t help but watch him as he walks in for the last time.

Walking tall and proud, in his gown.

Now he’s ready to go.

An hour later I sit in the football stadium, the dull roar of family and friends surrounding me. People have made banners and signs; hold bouquets of flowers and balloons for their graduates.

I hold nothing but my breath.

The band cues up the traditional Pomp and Circumstance song and far across the field I see the line of graduates begin filing in.

Gold gown, then black; girl, then boy.

Over five hundred of them, but there’s only one I’m looking for in the crowd.

At least one hundred students march towards their seats until I see him enter the stadium.

I bite my lip to catch myself from crying as I stare at this young man who used to hold my hand to cross the street; who wore footie jammies and loved mac and cheese.

Confident and proud, he carries himself around the corner and down the row to his seat.

The obligatory speeches follow, a medley of songs sung, the national anthem applauded.

And then, the names.

Over five hundred names. Air horns blow, cowbells clang, family and friends scream.

His row stands and begins their walk towards the podium.

More cheers, more cowbell.

And finally, they call it.

The name I wrote on that card in the hospital seventeen years ago.

There he is, my baby boy.

And he’s ready to go now.

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.