Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Becoming Progressively Unnecessary

"How was school?"


"Did you learn anything new?"

"No, not really."

"Any fun plans for the weekend?"

"Not yet."

"You know, we could go hiking Saturday..." 

He looks down, and shrugs his shoulders.


While I have often jokingly referred to my youngest as my manchild, he is not the Mowgli of Jungle Book fame. He was not raised by wild animals in the jungle; he can speak in complete sentences, and actually is well-versed in the English language, so his lack of conversation lately has been quite perplexing.  

When did the non-stop, stream-of-consciousness monologues... stop? When was I no longer privy to the antics of the school day, the blow-by-blow descriptions of his video game successes, and the verbatim re-tellings of movie scenes and memories?

If you've been reading Randomocity, you know I've been missing my boy. I wrote about The Silent Guitar as a way to deal with some of these emotions. Today, I'm exploring the conflict that comes from holding on and letting go as a mom.

It seems not so long ago Bridger came home from his first day of kindergarten with reports that he thought his teacher was pretty rude. His teacher also happened to be my best friend, and she was seriously one of the most loving teachers I've ever known. I stifled a laugh that day after school, and asked him to tell me why he thought she was rude.

"Well, she told us we have to raise our hands if we have something to say, and I have my hand up all day long, and she never calls on me." I smiled. Of course, he had something to say. Bridger always had something to say. He continued. "She just shakes her head at me, and points for me to put my hand down. She is RUDE." 

My poor, little boy was used to getting lots of attention as the baby of our family. I had to explain to him that he would have to take turns in school. His teacher had 25 other students to worry about, and he would be lucky to get called on every once in awhile. I'm happy to report that he learned to adapt to the school environment, and even grew to adore that kindergarten teacher.

These days, I would give anything to hear about his time at school, even unfounded complaints.

Just like all mothers before me; I had my turn with my manchild earlier. There was a season when he and I lived in our own little microcosm. That was then; this is now. 

Now he is in his season of friends. Friends are the confidantes, the companions, the family he has chosen for himself. I find myself on the outside looking in these days, left to wonder if I am doing anything right any more.

One way I show my love for my husband and children is by making things in the kitchen. I love to cook and bake for anyone who appreciates it. To hear contented "mmms" and "yums" just makes me happy. Lately, my offers to make him something special are falling flat.

When did my chocolate chip pancakes become too sweet for his taste? When did he decide he prefers bananas and tangerines to homemade chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven? When did Smuckers Peanut Butter and Jelly Uncrustables from the freezer section of Walmart become preferable to my home-cooked meals? When did containers of brownies and cookies go untouched until they were stale (or consumed solely by myself, which, unfortunately, is the truer state of things, if I am to be completely honest.)

Snack Pack pudding used to be one of his favorites, so today, I pulled out my secret weapon. I made him homemade chocolate pudding, hoping against hope it would be something he would actually eat. I set it in the fridge to cool while he was at cross country track practice.
When he was a toddler, I remember sighing when he entered the "I do it myself" stage. He was smart and strong, and very independent, but even then, he allowed for cuddle time in the rocking chair, and loved to listen to stories, and wanted to follow me around and be my shadow.

The Last First Day
of High School
I've been having a big old pity party for myself this week as Bridger has begun his senior year of high school. I remind myself that this exceptional child of mine is entitled to share some common traits with his peers. He likes eating convenience foods, spending time with his friends, listening to music, staying up late, and sleeping as long as possible in the morning. 

Did I say exceptional? Yes, and I am not just being a typical prejudiced mother. Our living situation is quite different than a traditional family's. Since I married last December, I have been dividing my time between Utah and Illinois. 

My son has been sensitive to my needs for one-on-one-time with him, and avails himself to me probably more than most boys his age. He offers to play his guitar for me in the living room, invites me to watch TV with him in his room, and sits down to meals with me when we are both home. I would wager some mothers of teenage boys long for these types of courtesies. 

As the last week of summer was winding down, he proposed we read a classic book to each other. After I closed my mouth from its agape position, I went to my bookshelf and started reading out possible titles. We compared notes on what we've read, and what would be fun to read, and we settled upon Tolkien's The Hobbit. Bridger asked if I would sit by him on the couch so we didn't have such a distance between us, and we wouldn't have to yell to be heard. So, there's that.

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary." Thomas Carruthers is the one who said it, and I am the one who copied it into my book of quotes back when I was listening to John Denver, and studying to be a school teacher. I kind of understood it then, but as a mom, I am thinking good parents make themselves progressively unnecessary, too, in some respects, and sometimes, it makes me sad.

It has been my privilege to mother three biological children, and to be a stepmother, too. Mothering is the hardest thing I've ever attempted because I love these people so much, and I don't ever want to smother them. 

Generally, when I am operating from a place of love, I do a much better job parenting than when I operate from a place of fear. I will admit it; as we approach the empty nest days, I find my head full of doubts and fears more often than I care to admit, and I have to be careful not to hold on too tightly.

Questions bubble up that trouble my thoughts. Am I no longer needed? Do we have anything in common any more? Does he wish I would just leave him alone?

This letting go, even before he has left home, is harder than I remember it being with the older two. He is my baby, after all. He will will be 18 in just a few short weeks. He's been driving for more than two years. He can fend for himself, and doesn't technically need me. Ouch. But does he still want me? I think he does. 

When he came home from track tonight, he could barely walk. He asked for ice to make an ice bath. I drove to the store for a bag of ice. I offered ice packs for his legs, and then I set up the electric blanket to wrap around his legs. He thanked me for bringing his Smuckers sandwiches to the couch for his supper. After his ice bath, he came back to the living room where we sat in companionable silence, each with our own laptop. I offered my small gift of chocolate pudding, hoping it might be something he would actually eat. 

And what do you know! He liked it!  

As he ate his pudding, I read this blog post to him. I told my Mowgli that I loved him so much, and I was trying really hard not to talk his head off, and just be grateful for the moments we have together. A smile spread across his face.

"I love you, Shrink," he said, his face illuminated by the blue glow of his computer screen.

"I love you, B." 

My Mowgli loves me. I guess I'm not completely unnecessary just yet. Whew.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Silent Guitar

In the still of night,
jumbled thoughts 
toss and turn
inside my head.
Sleep eludes me
as I lie in silence,
staring at the ceiling.

Are you awake? 
His voice comes to me
from his pillow.
He knows I am. 
Yes, I whisper.

Why? He asks.
The answer hangs 
between us in the dark.

There is an empty bed 
across the hall.
The guitar stands silent 
against the wall.

Are you homesick? He asks.
I shake my head,
afraid my voice
will betray these 
fragile feelings
so close to 
the surface of my heart.

I turn my head to the wall.
I am heartsick, I realize,
missing my son so far away.

His bed is empty 
across the hall.
His guitar stands silent 
against the wall.

Do you think he's awake? He asks.

Hot tears roll 
across my cheek,
and soak into 
my pillow.

You should call him, he says.

I don't want him 
to hear me cry, I say,
but messages travel 
through the night
to my boy so far away, 
now more man than child.

In the quiet of the night, 
my phone vibrates.
I walk down the hall and
past his room, 
where the lone guitar
stands sentinel 
by an empty bed.

I miss you, I whisper 
in the dark, 
smiling through my tears.
I can't wait to hear 
you play your guitar again.

I'll see you in just 
a couple weeks, he says.
I love you, Shrink, 
he whispers in the dark.

I love you, too.

There was a time long ago
when we two were awake 
in the middle of the night,
in a rocking chair 
by an empty crib,
as I gentled him to sleep 
with whispers of love
and gentle lullabies.
His soft breath warm 
against my neck.

Who needs soothing 
in the night now?
Who needs reassuring 
words and sweet songs?

Soon he'll gracefully strum 
the strings of his guitar,
and untangle this 
knotted ache in my heart.

Until then,
His bed is empty 
across the hall.
His guitar stands silent 
against the wall.