The New Normal

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My son forwarded an email to me the other day. It read,

“Dear Andrew and Roommate,

Congratulations, your applications for rental have been approved.  Thank you for choosing XXX for your new home!”

Your new home address is….”

Could the email be any clearer, putting into words what we already understood to be true? Our eldest son, soon to be a college graduate is moving on, not in a temporary, “I’ll be home for the summer” kind of way but in an “I no longer live in your house, and if all goes well, never will again,” kind of way. He’s moving to a new city in a new state to do exciting things with his life and this development, while joyful and thrilling is also a bit heart-stopping for me.

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It is not startling because our son is not ready to make his world debut. He is. He is as prepared for this transition as any young man his age can be. More prepared than many, I would even say. Often the most responsible person in the room, he is THAT kid, the one who at sixteen made copies of his teen tour itinerary for his group of friends before they set out on their journey. We moms laughingly reminisce that his friends had no worries as they fully expected Andrew to have copies available for everyone on the trip.

There is much written about the angst of sending your children off to college and indeed college is a huge step in a young adults first foray into independence but truth be told, when kids go off to college their home address is still your home address. Family vacations are planned around school breaks. Certainly college affords parents a break from daily hands-on parenting but in reality even though your children may be physically away from you they continue to be “all yours.” When someone asks a college student where he/she lives most will still give their parents’ address.

This post graduation move feels palpably different. It is different. This strikes me as a “Wonder Years” moment: a moment beyond which the new normal lies. The problem with all of these “milestone” moments is that while they happen bit by bit, they come upon you suddenly and leave you not knowing quite what to make of them.

When my son was barely bigger than a babe in arms we had a bedtime routine. I would place him in his crib and then I would sit in his rocking chair and I would prompt him, “Let’s talk about your day.” He would begin with, “I woke up this morning…” and often would get no further than that before he would digress and eventually chatter himself to sleep as I slipped away. As he got a little older, in a classic bedtime stalling tactic, he would beg, “Don’t go yet. Talk about my day.” He knew that I was a sucker for developing “communication skills” and his plea would always get me to stay at his bedside for just a little while longer.

I’m glad I stayed those extra moments. Perhaps he and I have always known that the hardest part of our relationship would be the letting go.

Bar Mitzvah Boy

DHW_Party_Share-5On the Gregorian calendar tomorrow is my youngest son’s thirteenth birthday.

Three weeks ago according to the Hebrew calendar my son became a man but two days after becoming a man he returned to seventh grade and took up largely where he left off. At dinner last week to a chorus of groans he announced that we should reinstitute family game night. Two nights ago he announced that he was quitting piano. And, last night he wandered the house looking for a willing victim for some card trick he was attempting to learn as I tried without success to work my own magic by disappearing beneath an avalanche of covers. It’s not really fair to him.  I know that but I’m fifty and I’m done with unilateral pronouncements, board games and card tricks.

I had to chuckle as David rose to lead us in prayer on the day of his bar mitzvah.  The cantor pulled out a stool for him to stand on so that he could reach the lectern.  I kept thinking about the phrase from Isaiah,  “…and a little child shall lead them.”  I have no idea what the theological underpinnings of that phrase are but nonetheless it kept rolling around in my brain. And there is wisdom in the old customs because within the child who rose to lead his congregation that day I saw a glimpse of the man he will, God willing, someday become, not today, not tomorrow but someday. Through all the lessons and the practicing and the run-throughs I worried because your baby is always your baby and you wonder what they are really made of. And, then on that day for a moment you see something that you’ve never seen before. You see potential and maturity and the ability to rise to the occasion.

And last night as I gazed upon his baby soft, whiskerless face I knew that these days of high voices and smooth faces are fleeting and we are on the cusp of something big.  Before the bar mitzvah album is complete he will morph into something between a boy and a man, awkward and incomplete but on a trajectory toward manhood that cannot be stopped.

And so, I pull the covers off my head, beckon him and pull a card from the deck he holds in fanned out fashion.

Happy Birthday my beautiful bar mitzvah boy.

School Daze

Ready, Set…Not So Fast

 

Moments ago my twelve-year old announced that he has not yet done the “optional” summer math packet. He was throwing around the term “optional” cavalierly, as if it absolves him of all responsibility toward the aforementioned math packet. I think he and I have different interpretations of “optional.” Not only has he not completed the packet; in fact, he has not even started it.  And, the first day of school is tomorrow.  The bad news is that since the school website has been updated he can no longer print out the packet so it will remain exactly as it was on the day school let out last year: untouched, unseen, undone. The really fantastic news is that not doing his math freed number three son up to watch all two hundred fifty episodes of Dr. Who this summer.

I feel the familiar stress of uncompleted schoolwork begin to seep into my weary fifty-year old bones. The usual platitudes start to roll around in my head. It’s his work.  A child has to learn to fail to succeed. But, those thoughts are quickly supplanted by nagging tentacles of guilt and doubt. Should I start calling around, try to get the packet from someone, spend the day tormenting both of us? But, whose work is this anyway and where does my responsibility end and his begin? And, what am I teaching him if I don’t? If I do?

In the scheme of things this is not something to lose sleep over. I’ve been around for a while now and I know what to lose sleep over.  This is more like the proverbial fly buzzing in my ear, irritating beyond measure.  It’s like the college essay that hasn’t been written, the common application that hasn’t yet been filled out, the summer reading books that lie on the table half read.  Why can’t they JUST. DO. IT.  And, how much of this undone work is a parent’s burden?

When I was a kid my parents had their work and I had mine and the twain never met.  I don’t think that my parents felt responsible for my work. EVER.  But, things were just different back then.  When I was a kid first grade art projects looked like something created by a first grader, not like Rembrandt’s early works. When I was a kid my second grade diorama was a hundred popsicle sticks askew covered with hardening knots of glue and not a flawless early rendering of the Taj Mahal. When I was a kid you wrote an essay, you asked your parents to read it and they said, “Why would I read your essay?”

Over the years when it comes to homework I’ve tried to be more like my own parents were, more of a helper than a doer and truth be told I’ve been more hands off with each subsequent child not because of them but because of me. This will be my fourth go round at seventh grade and let’s just put it out there, seventh grade was just borderline okay the first time around and maybe even the second time around but I really don’t know many people who could stay engaged for the fourth hit of seventh grade.

So today we’re going to enjoy the last day of summer and tomorrow my youngest son is going to tackle seventh grade.

And, both of us are going to survive.

Probably