The Night they Listened

I am still filled with the magic of that night last May.

The evening of the Listen to Your Mother Show in San Francisco.

The night fourteen of us took the stage, opened our hearts, took a deep breath and spoke.

We told tales of our own mothers and tales of our own journey through motherhood. Woven together, our fourteen tales spoke volumes.

For in each mother there are stories…sad tears-in-your-eyes stories, stories that make you buckle over in laughter, stories you never thought you would tell.

Pieces of a life, etched firmly on the heart of a mom.

Here is mine.

Eighteen blinks

Nobody warns the mothers about the time.

Those hours and days that seem like they will never end.

The errands, the preschool drop-offs, outgrown shoes, skinned knees, play-dates, mac and cheese, playground woes, spilled milk, bad haircuts, and kindergarten projects made of beans and glitter. The hormones, driving lessons, AP tests, cramming for finals, outgrown jeans, messy rooms, mac and cheese, and sleeping until noon.

Endless time, years of it.

The time that passes so quickly…that slips through your fingers somewhere between diaper duty and senior awards night.

When they placed you in my arms all those years ago, you should have had a warning label.

Handle with care. Love unconditionally. Caution: will melt your heart.

Warning: Object in your arms will grow more quickly than it appears.

Eighteen years passes so very quickly.

Eighteen blinks later, you sit across the kitchen table from me… coffee cup in hand, reading the newspaper. This, this is what years of parenting lead to? A scruffy-faced young man with principles and ideals and morals and thoughts all his own? No longer to be shaped by my influence or advice?

This was exactly what I was supposed to do. I mothered, I cuddled, I talked and I listened.

And then I took a backseat.

I am so very proud of the young man you have become, and look forward to the years ahead as you grow and shape yourself even more into a young adult.

But this nagging feeling that there must be something I forgot to do with you still persists deep inside.

So forgive me if I invite you for an ice cream, pour you a cup of coffee, challenge you to a game of Scrabble, buy you a silly book, ask you about dinosaurs, offer you a ride on my shoulders or touch your thick wavy hair when I walk by.

I might not be finished with this mothering gig after all.

 

New Chapters

It’s happening in my house again.

Another kid is moving on.

And while this time it’s only promoting to high school, in my bones I can feel a shift.

My babies are growing up. And I am so very proud.

My daughter will stand proud this evening in her promotion robe, along with her bestest friend since they were babies.

And then they will  move on.

I will write about it, once the dust settles. Once I catch my breath at the quickness of those nine years of school.

But for today I share again what it was like last year at this time…when Pomp and Circumstance filled my heart.

 

Pomp and Circumstance

I 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.

Little Boy Lost

She just let him be a kid.

That’s what the good mothers do, especially those with little boys who need to run and get dirty and build things.

He needed to ride his bike or his skateboard, needed to build with his dad in their garage, and just needed to be a boy.

So she let him.

We buckle them into seat belts and strap on helmets, wrap sharp coffee table corners in bubble wrap, and use safety gates to prevent little guys from being hurt on too-steep staircases. We puree homemade baby food, vigilantly prevent choking hazards, and sneak into the silent darkness of the nursery at night to watch them simply breathe. We hold little hands as we carefully cross the street, practice calling 911, and use safety scissors.

That’s what the good mothers do, after all. We do everything in our power to keep them safe.

She just let him be a kid.

As I sat in my family room that night the news began to spread through our small town the way modern-day news travels…over Facebook. A comment about a horrible accident, a young boy injured, speculation about who the young boy was, exchanges between young and old trying to figure it all out, and finally the sad news that he did not survive the accident.

And then I saw the message that made my heart sink.

I knew who this boy was, knew his mother. We work together at the school and she is wonderful.

She always talked about her boys.

Now one was gone.

She just did what others mothers do every day: she just let him be a kid.

How do we do this every day, when there is no guarantee? No promise of a future, or of grandchildren on our laps, no cure for cancer, no special bubble wrap that can protect our children? We let them go each day, like small pieces of our hearts with goals and ambitions and a will all their own.

We pray and we wish and we cross our fingers that they will be OK. Throw a bit of faith or fairy dust into the wind as we shout, “Have a nice day!”

How do we do this?

I have wondered this many times over since that night in May…and since the warm evening in June when we all stood and cheered as his mother walked down the aisle amongst the 8th graders to accept her son’s diploma…and since the late afternoon in August on what would have been his 14th birthday, as I hugged his mom in the memorial garden the volunteers have created for her.

How do we do this?

I have become a bit more tolerant of the eye rolls, a bit more relaxed about the have-to-do things. A few more minutes to stay up, an extra hour to browse at the mall, another cookie, maybe a pat on the head as I walk by.

Because life reminded me that we truly don’t have unlimited time with our kids.

So I just continue to do what the good mothers do.

I just let them be kids.

 

 This post originally ran on Moonfrye

Coming Home

college student coming home for holiday

How do you feel, when you walk through that door…

Home for a quick visit; a week at best.

Dropping your heavy duffel bag onto the floor while the dog slathers you with welcome back kisses.

Same old home, same familiar spaces where you’ve spent most of your young life.

But maybe a bit foreign to you now.

Does it feel like home, like a place you’ve never left in your heart?

Or just a vaguely familiar memory?

When you walk down the hallway to your bedroom, do you see the little boy there, picking up jelly beans that the Easter Bunny left in a trail?

I do.

And in your room, your big boy room at the front of the house…

See that small boy standing at the window, waiting for the garbage truck?

He’s still there.

This empty room is still filled with him, everywhere I look.

And then, when you are here in the flesh – all over-six-feet of you with stubbly beard and deep voice – the room fills again but the memories are new.

No tucking-you-in at bedtime; no rushing to the window to greet the garbage man.

Do you still feel at home?

Or too anxious to get back to your new life?

With each visit home, you take a step further away.

That was the plan all along…

Simple words cannot express the pride I feel, watching you grow into a young adult.

But my heart misses that little boy sometimes…

 

Tell Me a Story

His voice surprises me every Sunday evening.

Sundays are for phone calls home. Time to talk about midterms and dorm food; to tease his sister a bit and catch us up on his life away from home.

It’s the only time each week I hear his voice now. It’s strong and deep.

The voice of a young man.

That very same voice that I remember hearing incessantly, ever since he found the usefulness of language and started to babble.

He told vivid stories, long and detailed…about dinosaurs or Bionicle characters or knights in shining armor. And in that long part of the afternoon, when dinner is looming too far away and naps are finished, he would tell his tales.

On car rides to grandparent’s houses, or just a trip to the neighborhood store. The stories, they flowed.

Once his sister was born, he had a new audience. She listened and watched and smiled.

And he went on and on.

I know I tuned out quite a bit; continued to shake my head and nod, throwing in a few “uh-huhs” for good mom points.

He was creating worlds that made him happy, that made even the worst day at school seem easy to handle.

I just couldn’t imagine a time when the stories would end.

Or turn into grown up stories.

Of paying bills and managing laundry; scheduling classes and planning for his degree.

These once-a-week stories from a young man’s voice have nothing to do with pirates or knights; and yet they are magical.

He’s building his own world, one independent step at a time. Chasing a dream, following a passion, developing a future for himself. Something to call his own.

And crafting his tale one Sunday night phone call at a time.

And just maybe, those stories he told for hours on end helped him get where he is today.

I’m glad I listened.

At least half the time.

The Long Goodbye

I think I’m still adjusting to it, to be honest with you.

That empty bedroom down the hall.

When my son came home from college for Thanksgiving, it was magical. He had only three days to visit, so we crammed in all the laughing, chatting, eating, and hanging out that we could muster in that short period of time. It was his first visit home since he went away to college in September and he seemed genuinely happy to be here.

To sit and watch him pester his sister, play with the dog, and stretch his lanky frame out across my couch again?

Pure awesome.

Christmas break was a whole month long…at least a week too long, we all decided. After the first week or so we had all settled into old routines for the most part. Almost as if he’d never left.

His floor was once again littered with socks, more of his friends were home to make plans with, and we were suddenly back in the business of parenting: curfews, chores, do-this, do-that, get a haircut, clean your room.

When he finally went back to school in early January, it was time.

And yet…

I found myself tip-toeing past his closed bedroom door, still thinking he was in bed and sleeping late. Buying his favorite snacks at the grocery store, only to remember that he won’t be home until April. Setting aside the Sunday comics for him when I brought in the newspaper.

Old routines; familiar little mothering stuff that only a mom understands.

Little mothering stuff that I can’t do for him anymore.

I sat in his room for a bit yesterday, after I had remade his bed with clean sheets in anticipation of his next visit.

This big boy room that we moved him to when his sister’s birth was imminent. The big boy bed he slept in straight from the crib. Awards hanging on the wall, movie ticket stubs taped together in a long strip on the mirror, silly photo booth pictures from Senior Ball stuck to the mirror.

The memories in this room are piled 16 years deep; and yet they are right on the surface of my heart.

He smiles back at me from the Senior Ball picture; or at least I think he does.

And I know he’s exactly where he needs to be right now.

But there’s a hole in that empty bedroom down the hall.

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It’s Wednesday, and that means I’m also hanging out over at Moonfrye! Today I’m coming clean about how I almost lost it all last week but nobody was the wiser. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. Come visit me over there…I promise I won’t make you do any chores.