The not-so-last supper with my college bound son

IMG_0460Dinner wasn’t how I imagined it. What ever is?

I’d planned multiple not-so-last suppers. These dinners would give us memories to sustain us until Thanksgiving, when the Dude would return, all collegiate and wise, asking for wine with dinner while discussing the Greek debt crisis.

If only he’d show up, they’d be great.

It was the day before the day before he’d head off to Indiana, but he had plans, maybe, or maybe not, or yes, but not sure when, or if they included dinner, and he’d let me know when it was settled. It wasn’t a surprise. We’d been dancing this tango all summer long.

By the time he’d figured out he needed dinner, it was too late to cook something and have it done in time for him to eat it. Shrugging off his overwhelming disappointment, he told us he was going to get carryout. My husband and I offered to take him somewhere, but that would risk us being seen together, so my husband offered to bring in dinner for all of us. The Dude liked it because it meant he didn’t have to pay for it. I liked it because it meant I didn’t have to cook. My husband said it would give the Dude more time to avoid packing.

“Why rush things,” said the Dude.

Despite heading off to college, the Dude has the eating habits of a toddler. One steak and cheese, no onions, no mushrooms, no peppers, no sauce. Only meat, cheese and bread.

Something this simple should not be hard to accomplish, yet when the Dude unwrapped his sandwich it was clear that the order was all wrong.

“I’m out of here. See you later.” We heard the rev of the engine, the thump of the base line, and with the opening and closing of the garage door, he was gone.

Beyond opening the wrapper, the Dude never touched his dinner. No amount of scraping or removal of the offending items could salvage the culinary travesty. The sandwich stared back at my husband and I, wondering what it had done wrong.

I took a deep inhale. My husband closed his eyes and snapped his plastic fork in two.

“May he fall in love with a vegan foodie,” I said. Nothing cuts the tension like a good joke. This one wasn’t good enough.

“He’s tone deaf to everyone else’s feelings.” My husband found a new fork. “He could have at least said thank you.”  He continued to vent. He took time he didn’t have to get take out he didn’t really want so he could share dinner with his son who couldn’t be bothered to stay and eat. “It’s a slap in the face.”

I have little sympathy for my husband. This happens to me almost every week with food that I actually prepare. But I didn’t bring that up because I know it wasn’t the real issue.

Knowing goodbye is coming is almost as hard as the actual goodbye. The Dude is pulling away because he is as afraid of missing us as we are of missing him, only we’re allowed to acknowledge it. He’s heading off to the best time of his life. Just because he’s ready to leave, however, doesn’t mean he has the emotional lexicon to do so gracefully.

We are dealing with the omnipresent “last”.  Our scuttled dinner was only the second to last, meaning we still had more, but only one more. We could pretend one more time that it’s just another dinner in a thousand dinners we’ve shared around our table, but this was the last time we could.

“I’ll talk to him tonight.” It was our own ritual of “last”;The Dude and I, both night owls, would stay up and watch television and talk, sharing foot space on the ottoman. Sometimes I made popcorn, sometimes he made pancakes.

“Dinner was uncool,” I said to the Dude as we both reached for the last few kernels in the bowl. He knew. He has a tell–a particular expression he wears when he’s already composed a response to the question he knows is coming.

His reasons sound so much like the ones his father dishes up. The workday was long, He had too much to do, and too little time. The weather was too hot, and the kids uncooperative. His friends can’t seem to make up their minds about plans, and change their minds too easily. He never asked for his Dad to get dinner, and then it was the wrong sandwich. It was all too much.

Goodbye is so hard.

“I’ll apologize to him tomorrow.”

The next day, while I was preparing dinner, the real, last dinner, my husband came home. He poured himself a scotch, and I told him I’d talked to the Dude about the prior evening.

“I have a few things I’d like to say.” I hoped my husband could find the emotional lexicon to get his point across while preserving our last “last”.

The Dude sidled up and shoulder checked him, and said, “Hey.”

My husband put him in a headlock.

All was forgiven. I went back to cooking dinner.

I guess he had all of the emotional lexicon he required, although it wasn’t the conversation I’d imagined.

What ever is.

It’s our fault. We taught them to share.

Eleven days left

Until I claim his bedroom

Paint the mother pink

_____________________

Not that I’m eager

Go ahead–count those chickens

What could happen now?

______________________

Damn, I had to ask

Mono outbreak in his squad

Grad party whiplash

______________________

Tracing through the snarl

Of who has hooked up with who

Dating duck, duck, goose

______________________

Rumors burn the wires

His prom date is patient zero

Glad he’s got no game

______________________

So the lesson, Dude?

Keep your tongue in your own mouth

Until you’re thirty

______________________

Can’t breathe easy yet

He and his sick best friend have

Shared “water bottles”

_______________________

Calculate backwash

From a “water” pong tourney

Twenty kids, two cups

______________________

Google Hail Mary

Can Fireball kill off germs?

It tastes like it can

______________________

The answer is no

But it makes good antifreeze

It tastes like that, too

_______________________

You haven’t had it?

Think of a bowl of Red Hots

Steeped in Jack Daniels

_______________________

“The symptoms?” he asked

I said, “You get real tired–

I’ve had it for years.”

_______________________

“I have to be fine

Welcome week is important!”

(It has the parties)

______________________

Sleeping in all day…

When teenagers have mono

Can you really tell?

______________________

So far he’s okay

Luckily the health center

Is next to his dorm

So Funny I Forgot to Laugh


The Dude and I stayed up late and watched television. I’m not normally a T.V. person, but the Dude leaves for college in two weeks and I don’t want to miss anything good. He keeps telling me he wants to get as many “lasts” in as possible. Last meals at home, last parties with friends, and of course, last philosophical arguments with Mom.

We both love The Daily Show. I thank Jon Stewart for making current events and politics relevant to the younger demographic that traditional news outlets have left for dead. I am dismayed, however, by reports that his show allegedly had a working culture that was unfriendly to women and minorities. I voiced my disappointment to the Dude.

“But he’s so progressive,” said the Dude, and I agreed.

“But what one does is as important as what one says.” And when one has a platform the size of Jon Stewart’s, what one says is pretty damn important. I don’t mean to single him out. His is not the first man to be accused of running a comedy boy’s club. The same has been said of SNL, and even *sniff* The Colbert Report.

“I hate to say this but…”

This is the Dude’s way of saying “I’m about to say something I know you’ll go batshit over, but I’m right, so I’m going to say it anyway.” I start relaxation breathing immediately.

“Women aren’t that funny.”

He didn’t even say “present company excluded.”

Humor is subjective. I tell myself this whenever people don’t find my writing funny. That doesn’t make it untrue. Humor is largely contextual. The scope of humor can go from one person (Sometimes I am the only person who finds me funny) to universal (Even my parents liked The Incredibles). Would my 18 year-old son appreciate Any Schumer’s “Last Fkable Day?” Probably not as much as I do. But to deem an entire gender not funny?

Based on his expression, I must have had that feral alien cat look I get when he’s said something that hacks me off, like I think feminists are shrill.

“You might not find them funny, but that doesn’t mean they’re not funny. Your opinion isn’t fact. I don’t find Daniel Tosh funny. You find him hilarious. Lots of people agree with you. Just not me.”  Daniel Tosh has his own show. I do not. Maybe not a great example.

“So Jon Stewart hires people he thinks are funny, and people like his show. Why should he hire people that other people think are funny.”

That is the important question underneath it all. Why does diversity matter? I didn’t point this out, since nothing shuts down conversation faster than talking about real stuff.

“I suppose it depends upon his objectives. As a political satirist, shouldn’t he care about half of his viewership?” Actually 46%, according to the Pew Center. “He’s been a pretty good standard bearer for progressive values, but he’s missed an opportunity to speak meaningfully to a segment of his target population by utilizing writers who speak the same language.Diversity ensures you aren’t breathing your own exhaust.”

I’m well aware my audience isn’t teenage boys, so I don’t worry about whether he thinks my writing is funny. I know he wouldn’t. That’s why I don’t show it to him.

“You’re studying marketing, so this is an important lesson. If you drive with blinders on, at best, you miss a large portion of the view. At worst, you get t-boned.” Like the company that made a tablet for women preloaded with apps for shopping, dieting and exercise. I bet they just loved the press they got.

The Dude seemed willing to acquiesce on the larger argument, but had some issues that hit closer to home. The young women in his peer group.

“They make these jokes and laugh their heads off, I don’t get it. Neither do my friends.”

“They are referencing something that is personal to them. That’s what context means.” We repeated this exchange several times. Clearly, he thought my answer should have been that their attempts at humor were just that, attempts at humor.

It was time for him to consider another source for his problem.

“Maybe you should be asking yourself what they know that you don’t.”

“You always said that if I don’t know what they joke is about it’s probably about sex.”

“That was true when you were younger. Now, if you don’t get what the joke is about, it might very well be about you.”

I was wrong. Talking about real issues isn’t the quickest way to clear a room. Guess I’m not so funny after all.

Because I said so, that’s why.


I sat on the back porch swing and watched fireflies chit chat while the bluetooth case of my IPhone occasionally flashed hello in return. At least I’m hoping it was a hello. I’d hate to think I’d confused them.

My Kindle screen had gone dark several minutes ago. The Dude played basketball in the driveway, and I searched for subtext in each thump. My husband said the child hadn’t left the dinner table angry. That made one of us.

It was a stupid argument. His room is a yawning pit of entropy. I’m expecting those British ladies with swabs to show up any minute now to detail how many types of bacteria are festering in his carpet.

I asked him to clean it. He could have said “Sure,” ending the conversation. He wouldn’t have even had to mean it. I’m smart enough to know that an affirmative response only means he heard words coming out of my mouth. As far was listening to them and heeding them, I know there is no guarantee.

He said, “I’m busy.” I suppose it’s true at some level. He hasn’t been up before noon all week, and he disappears every afternoon to play basketball, then hangs out with his friends. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for housework.

Informing me that he was too busy to clean his room, however, felt like a kick of sand in the face. The Dude has been extremely resistant of late. Not that he ever does as I ask. He’s usually not so hostile about it.  I’m usually not so hostile in return, either. He gets around to things eventually. Today was not one of those more reasonable days.

“Maybe I’m too busy to give you the keys to my car until your room is clean.” Take that, you little shit.

With my response, dinner was over and he was gone.

I told my husband that it was about respect. I was not his slave. He’s not above cleaning his room, and he can’t just expect me to do everything for him. What a load of hooey.

The firmament my son and I stand on is dividing, like one of those cartoons where the earthquake splits the earth in two sides with a deep crevasse between them. He is going away to college and I don’t get to come along for the ride. I don’t even want to. That doesn’t make the change in the power structure of our family any easier to navigate.

I remember the summer before I went away to school was much the same. My mother and I argued. She complained I was never home, there was so much to do to get ready for school, and I was being snotty and disrespectful. I thought she was being controlling, stressing over details that I didn’t care about (I mean really, do you really need to comparison shop a shower caddy), and overreacting to my supposed overreactions.

I hate it when lessons I learn as a parent result in an apology for my own adolescent behavior. I’ll add this one to the ever-growing list.

Come fall, I will be a mother without a child to mother, but for now dammit, I’m still in charge. Who told him he was his own master?

Oh wait. That would be me.

I find it ironic that after years of warning that he’d have to take responsibility for his own stuff without my supervision and now that he’s doing it, I don’t like it. It makes me feel…. irrelevant.

It doesn’t bother my husband so much. I guess there’s a reason they call them apron strings and not suspenders. He is more prepared to let go. He is also not the one that will have to don the bunny suit and clean the boy’s bedroom and bathroom after he leaves for college. Just because I’m realize the argument isn’t about the Dude’s armpit of a domicile doesn’t suddenly make it clean.

As the day faded away, so did my anger–enough to let it go and move on. When I came in, the Dude was busy watching television. I could have cleaned my own bedroom. Instead, I sat down and watched along with him.

These next few weeks will be difficult, but I’ll make it a little easier by giving up the idea that I have control over anything, least of all my son. When the time comes for him to leave, we can fall into the crevasse, or we can use the time we have to build a bridge. As long as his bedroom stays on his side we’re good.

Wherever you go, there you are

493343628_98052395a0_zBeing a mother has occupied the last eighteen years of my life. While parenting is an exercise in entropy, it still provides a certain infrastructure. The daily schedule of getting the Dude to school, discussing his fantasy teams, and fighting over his crappy eating habits creates a living clock. It’s easy to find meaning and purpose. I am a parent. I take care of my child. If that’s all I do in a day, I can consider it a success.

The Dude leaves for college next month, and we both will have the world spread out in front of us with no real plan. While I’m excited, there’s a not-so-small element of “oh shit” mixed in. I have no roadmap to guide me. I can’t plug a destination into my GPS, because I’m not sure where I’m headed.

When I think about it too intently, I feel lost. I worry about where life will lead, and anxiety rushes to the surface. Will I ever finish my book? Where will the next story come from? Is this a career or a toe-dip in the land of wish fulfillment? How long can I justify calling myself a writer without some tangible sign of success?

I don’t know. Not a comfortable situation for someone who likes to have all of the answers. While hurtling into the future, I can’t catch the words or the notes. The best I can do is make a mad grab and hope I come up with something profound. Usually it’s a really bad limerick.

If I can manage to stand still, however, even for a minute, I can place a big red star on the map and write “You Are Here.” Sometimes, “here” is the best I can manage. Maybe, “here” is all that really matters. After all, “there” is merely a collection of interconnected “here’s”, right?

When I was twenty, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I was thirty. When I was thirty, I knew what I wanted to be at forty. Each decision led me one step closer to that end. Ironically, when I got where I intended to be, I didn’t want it anymore. Somewhere along the way I had changed, but I was so focused on the destination, I hadn’t noticed. If I’d seen a map of my life, a big red star telling me where I was, where I truly was, I might have been saved a lot of trouble and pain.

So as I walk into unmapped territory, my goal is to be dedicated to here. To now. Because this is where the words grow, and the music unfurls. I will stand still long enough for them to find me, and stay quiet enough to listen.

So if you need to find me, you know where to look.

Photograph : Mt. St. Helen’s park entrance by Stephan Adrej Shambora © 2007 via Creative Commons/Flickr

Hats off to the Class of 2015

IMG_0748The grads all took a bus from school, and we, the parents, would meet with them after the ceremony. If we wanted pre-graduation photos, the Dude would need to be up and dressed at 7:00.

Right.

I tried to get the Dude to dress for pictures the day before, but like every other day that week, he was at a graduation party. Clearly, we’d be taking photographs afterwards. Thank goodness he didn’t have to turn in his cap and gown.

“Hey Dude,” I said. “If you really have to throw your cap, make sure you come back with one afterwards.”

“Why would I want to throw my cap?” He got into his friend’s car and they disappeared.

On graduation morning the Dude woke up with barely enough time to take a shower and get the ends of his tie to match up before running out the door.

The Dude’s Dad and I were a little more prepared. In fact, we had a plan. The Dude’s Dad is really good at plans. We had to leave late enough to minimize the amount of time standing on the sidewalk outside the auditorium in 95 degree weather. On the flip side, we had to leave early enough that I-66 was still HOV, so we could bypass the long line of single occupant cars pulled over by the police at 8:45. We’d secured a prepaid parking spot a few blocks from the auditorium and I’d even worn flats.

For once, events followed plan and The Dude’s Dad and I took our seats to watch 500 kids march across the stage and receive a blank folder.

The room was full of celebratory energy, yet held an undertone of sadness. I’d been getting information emails in the weeks leading up to the big day, each one bemoaning the arrival of another “last”.  I’m pretty attached to The Dude, but I was anything but melancholy.

I’ll admit, I teared up a little hearing the orchestra play “Pomp and Circumstance,” but it was partly due to the fact many of them were better players than I am, and I’m petty that way. As the graduates filed in, we scanned heads to see if we could spot the Dude. At 6-foot-4, he’s pretty easy to spot, even if everyone is dressed alike. The Dude scanned the crowd, but couldn’t see us, so I waved, along with 500 other mothers. He’d have to trust we were watching.

The speeches covered the usual territory; assertions that despite high school sucking like an Electrolux, these were the best days of their lives, along with assurances that things would get even better than that. They spoke of hard work, dedication and perseverance, but mostly, a lot about partying, with thinly veiled references to activities they think the parents aren’t aware of. (Every generation of teens think they discovered sex, despite the evidence to the contrary. After all, they exist.)

Given the Dude’s last name starts with “E”, we didn’t have to wait long to see him cross the stage. They’d hired a photographer, which was good, since even with a zoom, the Dude looked like a green ant. He exited, and the Dude’s Dad and I turned towards each other for a high five.

Raising the Dude was a joy. Turning him into an adult was more like a bad Monty Python skit. Equal parts painful than funny, impossible to understand much of the time, and about twice as long as it needed to be. My husband pulled out his IPhone to answer emails, while I pondered my ambivalence with watching my son graduate high school.

Then I got it.

Graduating high school is his right of passage. It isn’t mine. He got himself through high school. Yes, his Dad and I nagged helped, but the work was all his. The memories are his. The triumphs and the tumbles, all his. So I don’t feel sad. I’m happy for him.

And I’m happy for me.

My right of passage will come in August, when I wake up in the morning, on my own schedule, then work through my own agenda until 3:00 when it dawns on me that he won’t be popping through the door to flop on my floor and pretend he isn’t dying to talk about his day. I will miss him terribly, while I’m having the best time of my life. I guess I have more in common with a high school senior than I thought.

After the ceremony was complete, we wove through the crowd looking for the Dude. Or more accurately, I wove through the crowd, while the Dude’s Dad scanned over the top of the crowd to find the only person in the room taller than he is. When the Dude walked over, he was twirling the tassel around his finger, no cap in sight.

“You said you wouldn’t throw your cap.”

He leaned his elbow against my shoulder, accentuating the difference in our height. “I never said that.”

Of course he did. I knew he would. It’s what a graduate does.

And as I feigned annoyance by scowling, just to be sure we had at least one, my husband snapped a picture.

There’s no crying in baseball


Spring Break was quiet this year. The Dude had a lot on his mind, with college decisions looming and even more importantly, the fate of his NCAA bracket. Apparently, he does his best thinking while sleeping.

In prior years, he and I would take at least one academic-enrichment type field trip, usually something required by one of his teachers. To compensate, I’d take him to an exhibition game at Nationals Park. Last year, however, we spent the entire break visiting universities, and with the general chaos of our summer, didn’t get to a single game all season.

Baseball has always been the connection between me and the Dude, although sarcasm runs a close second. With spring in the air, I figured a visit to the ballpark was in order. I went online, bought the tickets, and we were set to go.

The weather couldn’t have been better for a game. The sun was bright, but a slight breeze would keep it cool enough for comfort. The Nats were up against the Mets, not the best team on the planet, but with the Nats bullpen, we were bound to see someone great. Maybe Scherzer, or Strassburg, or even Fister. The Dude and I were amped. We chatted on the Metro in while he texted his friends, while he informed me he was a master manipulator.

“You have the face of a bunny rabbit, Dude. Honestly, you could be a human Peep.”

“That’s what makes me so dangerous,” he said in his best Batman voice. “I live in the shadows.”

“You make me so proud.”

We talked about our favorite baseball moment. Red Sox/Nationals Exhibition game, 2012. Bottom of the 9th, Red Sox were ahead by one. Danny Espinosa crushed one to the outfield. The Nationals fans jumped to their feet as the Red Sox fans slumped in their seats. As Ian Desmond rounded third, Jacoby Ellsbury fired a cannon to home plate. It was like watching in slow motion. The crowd went quiet for a moment, then the ump called him out, reversing the crowd reaction with one simple gesture. Maybe today would be full of memories like that one.

He told me he loved going to games with me, because he could actually pay attention to what was happening on the field without getting distracted by conversation. I took it as a compliment. I’m much the same way. If I wanted to chit chat during a game, I could watch it on my IPhone for much less than the price of a decent ticket.

A young man stood by us in the car, thumbs a blur over his phone, much like my son. He looked familiar.

“Dude, isn’t that…?”

“Yeah.”

“You could say hello.”

“I have. We’re texting.”

“You’re five feet from each other.”

“He’s with his mother too. It’s better this way.” As his friend left the train (using a different door than his mother did), they gave each other the bro five. “I told him we were going to the game. He never told me where his mother was taking him, which means it’s something lame like a museum.”

We barely noticed how empty the train was until we were the only people exiting at the station.  I checked the tickets.

Crap.

The game was one week later.

I was an idiot. I should have double-checked, read more closely. I was too focused on what I wanted to do that I didn’t focus on what I was actually doing.

I expected the Dude to give me an earful. If the roles had been reversed, I would have. I might have even cried for effect.

He surprised me. He shrugged and gave a bummed but not fatal, “Well that sucks.” He was being very understanding. Still, I hoisted a bag of “I should have knowns” onto my shoulder, and braced for the lecture. The Dude knows how they go–he’s heard his share. Instead, he asked if there was something else I wanted to do instead, “you know, ’cause we’re already in D.C.”

“You’re taking this rather well.” He’s not a toddler, so I didn’t expect a meltdown, but I thought at a minimum he’d be annoyed.

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Like leaving his coat when driving into a snowstorm, forgetting to take out the garbage, or leaving something behind at school for pretty much all of seventh grade. Things we still give him grief about. Things I’ve blogged about.

We decided on the zoo, since the day was so beautiful. It was packed with strollers, tour groups and screaming children. The zoo loses a lot of its charm when one is there with a teenager. Even more so if that teenager is taking Environmental Science.

“Look long and hard at that tiger, Mom. Who knows how long until they’re extinct. Just like the rhino.”

“You’re an upper, Dude.”

“Just tellin’ it like it is, Mom. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

Since we weren’t at the game, he actually talked–mostly about college. He had finally made his choice, but it was a difficult one, and he wasn’t at peace with it yet. He hated the process of declining acceptances, saying it was like letting some potential future go. He was still worried that he’d do something wrong, make a mistake, choose the wrong place, miss out on something great.

So we talked about how decisions become mistakes only with the benefit of time and a lot of assumptions. In reality, we can only judge one outcome. We have no perspective on the alternative. What would our day have been like had I looked more carefully? Would we have done something else, or would he have slept late while I sat at my computer? We wouldn’t have had the time we were sharing right now. Even if it wasn’t what we’d planned for it to be, we took what we had and made the most of it. While I would have loved to go to the game, I treasured the day exactly as it was.

He’ll never know what might have happened if he’d chosen a different college. The best he can do is embrace the choice, explore its possibilities and move forward. Most of all, he needs to be as understanding of his own mistakes as he was of mine. Maybe I could do a little of that myself.

We still get to go to the game too–only this week instead of last week. It all has a way of working out in the end, if you let it.

It’s your game, Dude. Play ball.