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.
Our oldest son has never been a good sleeper. I used to laugh when people told me that I should “nap when the baby naps.” That would have been a perfect solution to my exhaustion if I hadn’t had to drive him around just to get him to go down for a nap and keep him asleep for that hour. Luckily, our youngest is a better sleeper than his brother. Last night, however, he was restless. By 10 Joe was asleep, but still Luke was not. Hubby asked me if I would go in and say goodnight to him again because that might be just what he needed. So, I did.
I walked into the boys bunk room and, sure enough, Luke was in bed but wide awake. I told him I knew exactly what he needed and traipsed off to their play room to retrieve Luke’s most favorite stuffed animal, a grey Webkinz horse named Motty-O. (Don’t ask me. He was 4 when he named it.) Our creative Luke has a series of stories about this horse, whom he has informed us is from Kentucky and sleeps standing up. We know this horse’s entire back story, a fact I’ve perpetually found charming. When I handed Motty-O to Luke, Luke smiled and hugged him. He stroked his tail thoughtfully and suddenly looked quite sad.
“What’s the matter, Luke?” I asked, worried by the face that usually proceeds his tears.
“Nothing,” he said, still stroking the horse’s tail.
“Are you worried about his tail, sweetie?” I inquired “You know, the more you love on an animal, the more threadbare they begin to look. That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a sign that you love him the most.”
“I know,” he said with tears welling up in his eyes.
I’m not the only one who has had a long and rough week. Although he’s been taking it like a trooper, Luke was the one who received the dyslexia diagnosis and began tutoring for his disability. He’s the one who has to think about switching schools and feeling different. I started to wonder if his tears had less to do with his horse than with other things he must certainly be grappling with at this time.
“You know, Luke, sometimes if you’ve got something on your mind it’s better to talk about it. Maybe if you tell me what’s making you sad you’ll be able to fall asleep better?”
“Nope. I’m fine,” he replied even as he opened his eyes wider and looked up at the bottom of his brother’s top bunk to keep the tears from falling down. Just like his mother, Luke likes to believe he can handle anything without any additional help.
I sat on the bed with him and stroked his hair, hoping he would open up but he didn’t. Finally, he asked me to leave. It was around 11:30 when he at last surrendered to sleep.
Tonight, I finally pried from him the reason why he was so sad last night. It wasn’t that he was worried about the dyslexia or the tutoring or the idea of switching schools or even the idea of possibly having to move. It was something I never saw coming.
“I was sad about Motty-O,” he reluctantly admitted.
“Sad about his tail falling out a bit?” I guessed.
“No. It’s something else.”
Having been something of a stuffed animal freak myself, I dug deeper into the stuffed-animal-lover psyche to try to extract the thing that might make him sad. Then it came to me.
“Are you sad because you won’t always have him with you?” I asked.
“Uh huh,” he said, tears once again pooling beneath his sweet, green-hazel eyes.
“You will always have Motty-O, Luke. I still have my most precious stuffed animals,” I said. “You know my orange dog, Drooper? I’ve had him since I was 9 years old. I’ve had him with me for 35 years. He went to college with me. He’s traveled with me. I will have him forever. And, you will have Motty-O for your whole life too.”
At this point, a couple tears leaked down his cheek.
“I won’t have him when I die,” he said as more tears fell.
“Oh, Luke,” I said, hugging him, “I believe you will have Motty-O in Heaven. I believe Heaven is filled with all the wonderful things you love and cherish in your life. Motty-O is part of our family. He will be in Heaven with us. I just know it.”
“My other animals too?” he asked.
“Most definitely,” I replied, relieved to know that he wasn’t suffering any ill effects from his diagnosis.
I can’t help but laugh now at how it all played out. Last night, Luke couldn’t sleep. I thought it was because of the same things that have been troubling my mind this week, so I gave him the one thing I thought would be the greatest comfort to him. Instead, that was the one thing that made it more difficult for him to fall asleep. I’ve got to learn not to project my concerns onto my little guy. Of course he’s not got insomnia about his reading issues. Why would he worry about something he’s always known? It’s the mysteries of the universe that keep children awake, mysteries like what happens to our stuffed animals when we die. That’s the only kind of mystery that is worth losing sleep over.
Tonight our boys did not want to sleep. They had an excuse every other minute about why they were unable to get any rest. It was like they were two again, hopping out of bed just because they finally understood the old stall tactic. They needed water. They needed to be tucked in. They were missing their favorite stuffed animals. They’d forgotten to brush their teeth. They were wearing me out. Their final excuse for why they could not fall asleep was that they needed to check on their stuffed animals in Webkinz World. Seriously? I don’t think they have been on Webkinz World once in the past month, but suddenly it was situation critical. What if their animals needed them? Desperate to get them to sleep, I assured them I would check on their stuffed animals to make sure they weren’t lonely, starving, or sick.
So, that’s exactly what I found myself doing at 9:30, forty-five minutes after the boys had gotten into bed. I was in my office on my laptop offering a virtual plush koala named Casey some chocolate milk and tucking virtual Googles (a plush platypus) named Grandpa into its bed, which happens to be shaped like a pancake with bacon shaped pillows. Only my Baconator son, Luke, would purchase that bed for a pet. At one point, I was trying to improve the health and attitude of Luke’s cocker spaniel, Rover, by playing a spirited game of online Battleship against someone else’s virtual pet cow. As I was getting my ass kicked by an imaginary cow, it occurred to me that despite how hard I am on myself I really am a fairly good mom.
I mean, how many moms would sit and play online Battleship in Webkinz World just so their son could go to sleep knowing his virtual animals were loved? I’m no June Cleaver, but I’m not exactly Mommy Dearest either. I do my best. Sometimes it feels like my best isn’t nearly enough, but it is. At the end of the day, I know my boys feel loved, cared for, and safe. If it’s playing online Battleship in a virtual world filled with stuffed animals that proves to them that I love them, I can live with it. And, just wait until I tell Luke that Rover lost one game of Battleship but killed his opponent in the other 2 out of 3 matches. Okay. Okay. Playing online Battleship for my kids’ virtual animals is not exactly parental torture for me. I’m not about to let them know that, though. As far as they’re concerned, my time in Webkinz World is a personal sacrifice because parenting is a tough, selfless gig. I’m willing to take on the unpleasant assignments because that’s just the kind of mom I am. In fact, I’m going to finish writing now and go back and teach that stinky cow not to mess with Rover again because that’s how I roll.