A Table With An Extra Leaf

Me and Thing One

We dropped Thing One at the airport again this morning for his flight back to Walla Walla. He has been in college a year now and, overall, these comings and goings have become easier for me. Not because I don’t miss him but because he has proven himself more than up to the task and I have seen that life without him after 20 years with him is okay. I am okay. My time as Mom isn’t over but the role has shifted. Joe still needs me often enough, but he’s also on his own a lot more. So we dropped him at the curb with his bags and drove off without incident. No tears. Everything was copacetic.

Everything was fine when we got home too. I was feeling pretty proud of myself. It was the easiest drop off yet. Yay, me! I got to work on life around the house, laundry, vacuuming. Then I got to the kitchen table. I removed the placements, wiped it off, and went to take the fifth chair away. That is when I got sad and teary eyed. I put the fifth chair back at the dining table where it lives and then set about taking the extra leaf out of the kitchen table and returning it to its usual 4-person size. I stood there for a minute overwhelmed over the loss of that extra seat.

A little later after I thought I had moved on again and pulled myself together, I put on a hoodie Joe left behind for me. It smelled like him. I got teary eyed again.

Letting go is a process, one I have to keep reminding myself about over and over. I know I will never stop missing Joe or being sad when he leaves, but it will become part of our new relationship contract. I told him today that I was a little sad about the table. And then I told him that it is all okay because I love him with my whole heart and I am happy that he is off pursuing his own life, but I will always miss him when he leaves. Then I told him that someday he will miss me when I leave and that is life. He told me we’d best not talk about that ever again.

Relationships aren’t easy, but they are worthwhile. And I will always have a table with an extra leaf for those times when the important people pop back into my life. Until then, there’s this little guy who is here for me.

The son I got to replace the son who sent to college. I will have to get another when Thing Two goes to college. And I am really glad I didn’t have more children because I can only handle two dogs.

Name Your Son After Luke Skywalker And You Just Might Get Someone With Jedi Power

And so it begins. Luke received his first college acceptance. Today, the University of Denver sent him an acceptance letter stating that he is recognized as a Chancellor’s Scholar. So, I’m going to take a moment to shine a light on my son, not because I want to brag (although I kind of do) but because I’ve never met anyone like him.

Luke has always been a hard worker and a helper. Despite having been diagnosed with severe dyslexia in third grade, he has found ways to rise above. He started fourth grade at a first grade reading level. Reading was hard for him, but he worked at it. A lot. Instead of shying away from reading, he made it his job to overcome his dyslexia. He did such a good job that the only way you can tell now that he is dyslexic is his reading speed. He is a slow reader, but he is exceptionally good at it now. At the end of his junior year, when his IQ and skills were last tested, Luke was reading at graduate school level. Luke went from barely being able to read Magic Tree House books with help in third grade to reading The Iliad and The Odyssey the summer before his freshman year. Luke never quits.

He is organized, focused, and structured in his approach to everything. He needs 25 solo volunteer hours to graduate in June. He is already beyond those hours. He has a project due for Western Civ this Thursday. He created 26 slides for it and finished it this afternoon. There is no such thing as minimal effort from him. He does nothing half-assed. In eighth grade, he became an ambassador for his school, giving tours to prospective students and their parents. He became a lead ambassador his sophomore year. He’s the president of his school’s National Honor Society chapter and has served on the Student Senate as an officer as well. He ran both track and cross-country. Luke submitted five college applications. The first three were due November 1st. He had those completed three weeks in advance. He went ahead and submitted the two that weren’t due until January 15th at the same time.

But, Luke’s effort doesn’t simply apply to school. He is like this all the time. When he makes his mind up to do something, he goes for it. He decided a while back that he wanted to be a better singer. So, he took voice lessons for a year. He was struggling with anxiety (pursuant to his work ethic and built-in need to excel) and started therapy to work on it. Despite not being thrilled at first with having to admit he needed some assistance, he grew to appreciate therapy and has been going regularly for years. He has so valued the experience that he is currently considering earning a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree so he provide therapy to others. He contributes at home without complaint. And at the end of his day, he says good night to us and heads to his room to do some free reading, spending upwards of an hour on that each night to unwind.

I have to admit the most fun part of all of this for me is seeing Luke’s hard work pay off. Two years of middle school and four years of high school with honors classes and straight A grades and tonight, for the first time, he seemed satisfied with his efforts.

Luke has taught me so much. He has always been unstoppable. He has self-confidence to spare, but it’s his work ethic that makes him who he is. Luke has taught me there’s no point in underestimating yourself, and the only thing that can hold you back is you. For this reason, Luke is limitless. He will reach his goals, even if he has to use a machete to cut his own path to get there. I have no doubts or concerns about his ability to do anything he sets his mind to.

We had Luke Skywalker in mind when we named our Luke. It was a good way to go. As it turns out, our Luke, like his namesake, wields a lot of power. Unlike Luke Skywalker, though, our Luke didn’t need Yoda to tell him, “Do or do not. There is no try.” “Try” is not a word in this kid’s vocabulary. He’s got Jedi power.

Our little rock star

Be Careful What You Ask Your Mom

My son sent me a photo yesterday of him and his new(ish) girlfriend. Six hours after he sent the photo, I asked him what color his girlfriend’s eyes are because it was hard to tell from the photo. He answered and that was the end of that. Or so I thought. Today, nineteen hours after I asked what color her eyes are and eighteen hours after he told me they were hazel, he sends me a random text inquiring why I want to know. He had no problem answering the question for me yesterday, so why was he suddenly curious about the question today? It felt like a trap somehow, although I didn’t know why. I decided to deflect thusly:

When I was a kid, my mom had a saying that went, “Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.” Today seemed like an apt time to employ that logic. I mean, why did he think I asked? He has a new girlfriend. Am I not allowed to be curious about her? Geesh.

Because he’s such a good sport, Joe’s response was, “Yooooooo. That’s a solid reason.” Damn skippy, it is, junior.

I’m not really going to harvest her eyeballs for my pagan rituals. It’s a small college and word would get around. Besides, Joe really likes her and she seems to like him too. So, I guess I will save my eyeball harvesting ritual for a girlfriend I don’t like.

It’s Freshman Year Again

Since Joe went off and started college in January, I’ve worked very hard to figure out how not to miss him. I understand this is a process. When a child rightfully extricates himself from your home to pursue his own life, there’s going to be some sadness. I was pretty depressed for about a month back in January and February when we left him in Washington. There are some ups and downs that first semester at college, and it’s hard to be away from your child when you want to be there to hug them and let them know they’ve got this. But he and I both held it together and made it until mid-May when he came home for the summer. It was a little less sad dropping him back at school in late August because I knew he was going back to friends and had reason to believe he was getting the hang of the whole college life thing. We saw him for four days in October when he came home to see us and meet the new puppy. We had a great time during his visit and when he left, I was actually not sad at all. It felt like progress.

Thing One at home and being derpy…some things never change

Today he came home for Thanksgiving. Everything in his life is going well. He’s got a new girlfriend at school and he has decided on a major. He’s back in his room tonight. He played with his dog and went to In-n-Out with us and even went on our nightly dog walk. It feels a little weird having him here now because I know he isn’t staying. Even though he is still our kid, he’s not anymore. It’s like he’s on loan.

This kind of makes me sad, and I have to think that I would be broken as a parent if I didn’t find this separation process a little daunting. But, having him on loan is actually kind of amazing too. Like, I realized the other day that he does his own laundry and grocery shopping. He makes his bed. He runs errands. He makes his own appointments and fills his own prescriptions. He goes to classes and takes his tests. None of this is my problem anymore. It’s all off my plate.

Having kids is an odd thing. You’re your own person, living your own life, and then you get pregnant and there’s this new life you have full responsibility for. They need you for everything. It’s exhausting and frustrating. Some times you love it. Some times you want to get in your car and drive to Guam. Then they begin to become independent. They start driving. They get a job. They go out with friends. They get into college. Then they’re gone most of the year and you’re back to being on your own and living your own life. But now it’s like you’re relearning how to do those things because you haven’t paid much attention to them for eighteen years.

So, as it turns out, Joe is starting his life and figuring it out during his college freshman year in Washington. And I am in my freshman year of part two of my adult life. (There was the Pre Kids phase and now there’s a Post Kids phase.) It’s kind of exciting. Wonder what I will decide to major in this time?

Kids Are Only Exhausting Until They Become Adults

The dog on her daily W

While taking the dog for her nightly “W” (that should be read as the sound of the letter W), I wandered by a house where a toddler was whining heavily in a garage. I heard a parent sighing and trying to coax them into the house. It took me back to the days when my sons were young and when I was that exhausted. It feels like a lifetime ago, and it kind of was. I realize now that what was so exhausting back then was the being fully responsible for someone else. The kid is covered in dirt and is also somehow sticky and he needs a bath, and he’s never going to stop playing long enough to use soap on his filth. That, unfortunately, is my problem. It makes me tired thinking about it. I felt for that neighbor with the whiny toddler. As I passed by, I sent him some silent encouragement. “Don’t worry, buddy. You’ll get through this.”

Tonight, my oldest son called from college. We don’t talk often on the phone. When he started school in Washington, I told myself I would let him have his space. He was free to call me when he wanted to, but I would only reach out via text. It was both a good way for him to start his own life without parental interference and a good way for me to accept that his life was his alone now. Putting some distance between us was difficult at first, but it was crucial. How could I expect him to adult if I was checking in, making him feel he had to worry about what his mom thought of his choices? Plus, it has given me space to consider what’s next for me in my life. And it’s always a fun surprise when he calls.

As Joe was updating me quickly on his life, talking about feeling overwhelmed with papers coming due simultaneously, I gently reminded him about the syllabi and how he can figure out ahead of time when these things might happen. Then I told him that I know he will get it worked out and next time he will probably manage his time better. College is about learning, and that learning isn’t only done in classes. It’s done in figuring out how to manage your workload, how to balance friendships and extracurricular activities with obligations, and how to step out of your comfort zone to find out who you are and who you might want to be in the future without anyone else telling you what that should look like for you. Once he had chatted with me long enough to realize that it’s his problem how he chooses to complete the four papers he has due this week while not falling behind with his assigned readings, he said he was going to go for a bike ride to clear his head so he could get down to it. “My work here is done,” I thought.

The thing about letting your kids go is that it is hard. You cry. You miss them. You slowly come to understand that your life with them will never be the same. They are no longer yours. They are free and they are their own people. And that can be hard to wrap your loving-parent brain around. Where once you really were the boss of them, now you are merely an advisor, and that is only if they award you that position. What I’ve come to embrace about this new dynamic is that giving my sons their freedom also gives me mine. So, yeah. I miss the hell out of Joe. Ninety-five percent of the time, that grown kid is a goddam joy. I don’t, however, miss being his keeper. I don’t miss cleaning up after him or keeping him on track with deadlines or making sure he has everything he needs for school. Those are his issues now. And my issues now are making sure I have ordered my favorite espresso beans, taken time to give the dog her W on a gorgeous fall day, and gotten tickets to that comedy show I wanted to see. My new responsibilities are a lot more fun than bathing a whiny child at the end of a long day and then falling into bed exhausted so I can wake up and do it all over again.

If you keep moving forward, you eventually come out on the other side. It’s not so bad here.

Back when our kids wiped us (and themselves) out

Patching The Small Hole In My Heart

Car loaded and ready to go

Today was D Day. That is shorthand for Departure Day. Today was the day Joe and I began our trek back to Whitman College so he can begin his first full year. It’s a 16-plus hour drive that we break down into two travel days. Today we headed to Boise. It is my third time this year making this 1,100-mile trek. But I love road trips, and time with Thing 1 is at the top of my list of favorite things.

I won’t lie. I cried a little last night. It’s the weirdest sensation to be so happy for someone and excited to hear how their college experience and life unfolds and at the same time be sad for your loss of their daily presence. I could not be any prouder of or happier for Joe. And I am proud of any action I took that helped him achieve his goal of being college ready and getting accepted to a quality, respected institution of higher learning. But, I will miss him tons.

The other day, during another short pre-departure cry, I told my husband that sometimes parenting hurts so much that I think maybe it would have been easier if I’d never had children. But that is just silly because my sons have been the single greatest joy of my life. I would have missed out on all that love, laughter, and learning if I hadn’t been their mother. They are everything to me, and I would not take back one single moment of the life I have led because of them. Not even the ones that made me cry.

Today during the drive I recalled this story. When Joe was about 7, he had a plethora of Webkinz stuffies. One day he came to me with his stuffed rhinoceros. He pointed out a tiny hole in one of the seams on his furry, light blue body. He was visibly sad. I told him I could fix that small hole and he would be fine. Joe, reflecting on how the hole came about, said “I think I must have loved him too much.” As I was discussing this story with Joe and got weepy again. I told him that this is hard because I guess I love him too much. He told me it is all good and I don’t need to cry because he’s not really going anywhere.

This time, I guess, it was his turn to sew up a hole in the thing he loves.

In the olden days

The Last First Day Of School

The big blue bear at the Denver Convention Center is one of my favorite sculptures in town

We went downtown tonight for the first time since Mother’s Day to take our rising high school senior to a college fair. It was at the convention center, and they staggered arrival times to keep the crowds down. Everyone was wearing masks. Still, a college fair is a college fair, and it was fun to watch Luke as he interacted with admissions personnel from five different small, liberal arts colleges. Luke has always been ready for this. He famously told us when he was seven that he was, and I quote, “Ready to find a wife, have some kids, and just get on with my life.” He is so ready to start his adventure. And I am almost ready to witness that amazing transformation. I’m a little shocked that we’ve made it to his senior year, but then I still can’t seem to fathom that I’m 53, so there’s that.

I spent part of today washing bedding for Joe to take to his dorm room. I am trying to help him get his head in the game about what he wants to bring with him because I don’t want to be shipping things to him that he should have brought on our thousand-mile voyage to his college. He’s excited about going back. He only had one semester of college last year, so this will be his first full year experience. The sophomore dorm at his school is brand new, though, and quite posh. They have nine section lounges, each with their own full kitchen. The third floor, where he will reside, has a glass-encased meeting room (a fishbowl), a huge room with game tables, and a balcony with a fire pit to make S’mores. He will get a single room with a full-size bed and built-in shelving. He’s already bought wall art and a small, smart projector so he can watch tv and play video games in his room. Now, if he can remember to go to class we’ll be in good shape.

All of this got me thinking about how back to school used to be for me and what it is now. It used to consist of buying school supplies and a couple new outfits for them, taking a photo on the first day, and then relishing the peace and quiet at home. Things have changed. Now I will drive Joe out to Washington while Steve stays home to get Luke settled into his senior experience. Steve is still not back in the office, so even when Joe is gone and Luke is at school for the day, I will not be alone at home. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s how to be flexible and adapt. So, I should be totally ready to deal with the chaos next year when both boys are heading off to college at the same time. I’ve been training for this.

Do I miss the days when I dropped them off together for the first day of school, filled with anticipation about the year ahead? Maybe a little. But I’m finding that each new stage is replete with its own excitement and challenges. College is a short four years, nothing like the first twelve years of schooling. I am certain that by the time I get this adjustment worked out and am functioning like a well-oiled machine, Luke will be graduating. They already told me I can’t take first-day-of-school photos of them, so I will just have to make sure to get in an extra hug before I send them off into their futures.

The only question that remains is what will I do with mine?

Our Kids Are Just Kids

My boys decked out for battle this morning

Yesterday was our sons’ annual well check at the pediatrician’s office. I never know exactly what to expect at these check ups because my kids are loose canons. When the doctor asks them questions, I’m never sure how they’ll respond. When Joe was five, he told the doctor that I fed him only bread and water and that he had no bed time. While the no bed time comment was true because he would never follow an actual schedule, I was in fact feeding him decent foods on a regular basis. Luckily for me, pediatricians are used to all sorts of weird answers from children, so the doctor lets my boys’ weirdness slide. I’m sure he goes home at the end of our visit, however, and tells his wife the crazy things I say immediately after my children make some random declaration of child abuse: “I do feed him. I swear I do. Bread and water are his favorite foods.”

Now that the boys are school age, the questions are a bit different. The doctor yesterday asked them what grades they were going into, what school they attended, and how they were doing in their studies. He then asked them the question I dread the most.

“So, what sports do you guys do?”

“Ummm…we don’t do any sports,” Joe replied.

“I don’t like sports,” was Luke’s immediate response.

“Well, what do you do when you’re outside then?” the doctor tried again.

“Nothing,” Joe said.

“Play with friends,” Luke said.

“I think he means what kind of exercise do you do,” I prompted.

“We don’t like exercise,” Joe replied.

“But, they do get exercise,” I back pedaled. “They hike, ride bikes, and swim in the summer. We snowshoe and hike in the winter.”

“What do you boys want to be when you grow up?” he tried again.

“I’m not telling you,” said Luke, too embarrassed to reveal that his dream is to be an Ironman-like superhero who designs sets for the Lego company.

“I don’t know,” Joe answered honestly.

“That’s okay,” the doctor told him. “Lots of grown ups don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.”

True enough. The doctor breezed through the rest of the well check, clearly unconcerned about Luke’s refusal to eat vegetables (“He’s gaining weight and his blood tests look good”) and Joe’s split lip (“Throw some Aquaphor on there and give it time”).

While we were on our trip, many of the kids the boys played with asked them about sports. Most of our friends’ sons participate in multiple sports and play in all kinds of leagues. We know soccer players, baseball players, football players, hockey players, and lacrosse players. They have friends who do tae kwon do, swim team, and triathlons. They regularly watch sports on television and have favorite teams. Our boys, on a good day, can maybe tell you the names of the four pro sports teams in Denver. Maybe.

Steve and I were discussing the other day the fact that our kids have shown no interest in activities and sports. We’ve registered them for soccer, baseball, swimming, and sports camps and they’ve whined about having to go. They just can’t bring themselves to care. Honestly, I’m relieved they don’t. Our nights are not hurried to get to and through practices and my weekends aren’t spent sitting on a wet, grassy sideline as it snows on my sons’ games. I don’t miss it.

Prompted by the comments of friends, though, about how our boys need activities to get into college and how by the time they decide they’re interested in sports the other kids will be far better than they are and they will not make the team, I have wondered if we’re doing our sons a great disservice by letting them skip out on sports when they’re young. Then, the other day, hubby said something that made me feel much better about it all.

“You know, they may not be great at sports. But, you know what they are great at? Being kids.”

He’s right. They’re 9 and 11. They have their whole lives to decide what their interests are and what they enjoy. For now, it’s good enough that they like to dress up in crazy costumes and run around carrying plungers and being superheroes. Our boys might be short on discipline, but they’re long on imagination. And, that may serve them just as well if not better in the long run.