Dreams

It’s been one whole week since my son left for college.

You’d have thought I would have posted several tissues-required posts about it all by now.

That’s usually how I roll.

But the words didn’t come this week. They stayed trapped in my head or lurking beneath my fingertips, struggling to come together on the keyboard and form more than two complete sentences.

Or at least a Facebook status.

*********************************************

He asked me to make sure he woke up on time the day he left. His alarm clock was already packed away; iPod set aside in one box or another.

When enough time had passed that morning and he hadn’t been seen, I went to his door and waited outside just a bit. I waited remembering how many times I had lingered outside that very door, listening for a horrible cough or maybe just waiting to tuck a little boy into bed.

We keep the door closed all of the time now. I like to say it’s to keep the still puppy-ish dog from stealing socks and school papers but it’s really because teenage boys are quite messy.

If you have one, you know.

I opened the door quietly, not wanting to startle him awake.

And there he was, in his big boy bed, peacefully sleeping.

Quite the big boy now, complete with two-day beard stubble on his face and size eleven feet hanging over the end of the bed.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen him sleeping, actually.

I have always been one to linger by the side of cribs and big kid beds, watching my children sleeping and wondering where their dreams were taking them. It mesmerizes me to watch them like that; so innocent and fragile, so full of hope and promise and dreams.

So for a few moments that morning, I lingered. I stood by his bed and took in the absolute breathtaking wonder that it is to gaze at your very own child. Fragile yet strong; small yet mighty; so young yet somehow so old.

We’ve raised him to this point and now it’s his turn.

And I knew exactly where his dreams were taking him that morning.

A Look Back…and Forward

Today is the day our family has been anticipating for months now. Maybe even years, it seems.

My son is leaving for college.

He’s psyched.

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.

 

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 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.

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.

And Then She Was Mom

Seventeen years ago I had no idea my life was about to change.

Obviously I knew I was pregnant. Thirty-eight extra pounds don’t just hide themselves under Spanx and layers of cute tops.

But through the whole being pregnant period I always just focused on the baby. The baby was it for me.

I collected cute little blankets knit by aunts and assorted stray neighbors; onesies in yellow and mint green (unisex colors of the 90’s); bottles, nipples, binkies, and rattles.

I handmade bright primary-colored crib bedding and curtains in my spare time.

Yes, I had spare time.

The nursery was ready with teddy bears, a musical mobile, tons of books, more toys than a daycare center, a baby monitor, fingernail scissors, and a Diaper Genie.

We took labor classes, learned to change a diaper, practiced the Heimlich maneuver for babies, read about c-sections, and bought an infant car seat.

We were ready for this kid.

There was only one thing I was afraid of.

Delivering this baby on a weekday.

Which was when I was due. Wednesday, June 1.

See, I worked as a Financial Analyst at the hospital I was going to deliver at. I worked very closely with the Department Chiefs in all departments.

Including Labor & Delivery. And Anesthesia.

I was terrified these people whose budgets I’d hacked and paychecks I’d authorized would suddenly have me in an awkward position in stirrups or with a needle pointed at my spine. Chiefs rarely had to be on-call on a  weekend.

It was enough to make me wish for an emergency airlift to a neighboring city.

Even so, on Friday May 27th when we went out with my in-laws for pizza I cringed when hubs said, “I think we should have the baby this weekend!”.

Now?

We?

And darn if my water didn’t break that night around 11pm.

Nothing has been the same ever since.

Because it’s not really all about the baby when you become a mom for the first time.

It’s about that intense connection you just can’t have with another human being.

That feeling that your soul is attached permanently to this little person; that you love your child so intensely that you would throw yourself in front of a bus to protect him.

Or maybe just in front of a crazy middle-school kid on a scooter.

When wiping snotty noses, changing countless diapers, washing spit-up stained clothing, nursing cracked nipples, and staying up all hours of the night become as second-nature as balancing the checkbook or buying groceries.

It’s about giving up the inner portions of your heart to little people who can’t yet speak, walk, or take care of themselves.

And it’s awesome.

Happy Birthday to my son…the one who pulled me headfirst into motherhood seventeen years ago.

And I’ve never looked back.

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.

The Real Spring Break

Spring Break is here!  A whole week off with my kids and the puppy, with NO PLANS at all!  What a great feeling, the freedom to do anything that might come up on the spur of the moment!

What was I thinking??

When Spring Break week was still quite far off, I remember thinking that it might be fun to plan a road trip, maybe drive up the coast and visit places the kids have never seen.  Well, apparently that takes advance planning, none of which I seem to have done. Past Spring Break trips have been very memorable, especially the time we planned an entire week in Orlando and the kids didn’t know we were going until we got to the airport!

I would never be able to pull that off now.  With one teenager and one “tween”, nothing I do (or buy) seems to go unnoticed.  Planning to take a family of four across the country for a whole week without them noticing would be like entering the Witness Protection Program and announcing it on your Facebook page.

Without actual plans or a road trip to take, a whole week off may start to seem like a long time.  So this morning, I decided to make a few plans for our week:

Jungle Adventure

We have had record amounts of rain this season, probably half of which came down just yesterday.  The backyard is flooded, and the weeds have grown to the size of shrubs.  We will wear camo hats and use machetes to hack our way through the yard.  The puppy can be the elephant/lion/giraffe that we have to fend off to get to the weeds.  Our trophy will be the full yard waste cart.

Factory Tour

The only factory tour we really have left (since the Hershey factory closed and the car assembly plant shut down last week) is Jelly Belly, which we have seen (and smelled) several times.  We have a factory right here in our home that the kids should learn about.  It’s called The Kitchen, and it produces food at semi-regular intervals each and every day.  The head of the production line has to come up with the plan for the day, and then procure the supplies.  The Kitchen is supplied by frequent (and expensive) trips to the grocery store.  We will plan the daily production for The Kitchen, obtain supplies from the grocery store, and I will put the kids to work on the production line.

Road Trip

My son has his driver’s permit, which means that his father and I have to swear under oath (and sometime under our breath) that we will drive with him for a minimum of 50 hours between now and mid-July. For various reasons, including too much homework, a car in need of repair, and a feeling of tightness in my chest, he hasn’t had much opportunity to practice yet.  We will pack some snacks, a few antacids, and our sunglasses and venture out around town.  We will explore empty parking lots, vacant streets, and other places that nobody else drives to. There will be no talking, singing, or anything else distracting in the car on this road trip (except a few mumbled prayers), so that the driver can concentrate.

That should keep us busy for a few days…..