The boy with the bugle

When I was 18, I had the eponymous role in my high school’s spring musical, Mame.  It was, without a doubt, one of the ultimate parts of a lifetime — and I cherish those times and those memories.  But, as a high school senior, I could hardly appreciate the intricacies of the parent/child relationship between Mame and Patrick.

Had I known that another 18 years later I would have the dream role of a lifetime, I would have laughed — who thinks that far ahead?  That role, of course, is Mom.

And now, 18 years after THAT ‘production’ premiered, I am sending my best beau off on his own adventure… to college.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Mame is that she is unafraid to just ‘wing it.’  Anytime, anywhere.  She trusted that it all would work out… until she was confronted with the reality that Children Grow Up and Take the Reins — then it’s really and truly out of your control.

And that’s where I find myself today.  My little love is taking the reins, and making his own life — and I won’t be a part of his everyday life anymore.  No wonder I couldn’t even grasp that idea when I was onstage singing my heart out… I can barely get my head around it now.

But those lyrics… oh my, I have found myself thinking of them on and off throughout the 18 years since my son was born.  And now I understand — oh, how I understand! — their true meaning.

Although the song seems — at first listen — a song of regrets, it’s really just about a mother-figure trying to learn to let go: full of questions as to whether or not she did the right things at the right times (and how screwed up will he be because of what I did/did not do?).  And if I had the chance to do it all again, would I do anything differently… or would I do the same again, knowing what I know now, and how he turns out?

I freely admit I’ve winged it as Mom most of Z’s life.  Of course I’ve read books and articles, asked for friends’ advice, and relied on my own instincts… and he’s turned out pretty well so far.  But I know nothing stays the same, nothing is forever, and if you trust your heart and your gut, you’ll make the right choices along the way.

So, Mame darling: don’t worry.  You did great.  It all turns out ok in the end.

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If He Walked Into My Life

Where’s that boy with the bugle?
My little love, who was always my big romance…

Did he need a stronger hand?
Did he need a lighter touch?
Was I soft or was I tough?
Did I give enough?
Did I give too much?

At the moment when he needed me,
Did I ever turn away?
Would I be there when he called,
If he walked into my life today?

And there must have been a million things,
That my heart forgot to say.
Would I think of one or two,
If he walked into my life today?

Should I blame the times I pampered him,
Or blame the times I bossed him?
What a shame
I never really found the boy,
Before I lost him.

Were the years a little fast?
Was his world a little free?
Was there too much of a crowd
All too lush and loud — and not enough of me?

Though I’ll ask myself my whole life long,
What went wrong along the way?
Would I make the same mistakes
If he walked into my life today?

If that boy with the bugle, walked into my life today.

~ Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman for the musical, “Mame”

I have mixed feelings about this

4… 3… 2…

As of tomorrow, I have a Freshman in College.

I know the best gift you can give your child is that of Roots and Wings — but wait, now he wants to use those wings?  I have 10 weeks before my life and his change profoundly when he leaves for college.  And then what?  He’s ready, but I’m not quite there yet.  As I’ve said multiple times over the last year:  I have mixed feelings about this.

“The days are long, but the years are short,” said Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.  She wasn’t kidding.  But no one in the midst of those long days wants to be told something like this: “You’re life is going to change.” (duh)  “Don’t blink.”  (really?)  “They grow up so fast.”  (it can’t be *that* fast)  But we don’t want to hear any of that as we gawk in wonder at the new life we hold in our arms, when we’re knee-deep in toddlers, in the thick of it with newly-minted teenagers, or beginning to learn to ‘let go’ with high schoolers.  We don’t have any more room in our heads — or hearts — to keep those kinds of ideas and feelings front and center.  We went into parenthood absolutely convinced we could, and would, be present in each moment.  How could we know that’s just. not. possible?

We also may not want to admit that “the years being short” is exactly what we’re afraid of.  That deep down we know Life is going to laugh at us as we make plans, only to watch those plans go every which way but our own.  Perhaps we’re not as much “afraid” as we are “uncertain” how our own hearts are going to change, not only when these tiny people arrive — but also when they leave to continue their own journey.

I always knew that my son was going to grow up and graduate from high school and go to college (barring any unforseen hurdles).  But somewhere between middle school angst and high school politics, we entered a time warp wherein the high school years seem to have developed much shorter days than the years before.  Is that because he was doing so much more on his own, and I used that time to get caught up on my own life again?  Only to turn around and see him taller than I am, his jawline defined, driving himself to and from his activities, shaving, working part-time…

Did that all really happen in just a mere three or four years?

Indeed, maybe that’s what is so surprising for us as parents: all that major changing takes place in such a short amount of time in relation to their previous growth, except when they are brand new.  They’ve been reliant on us for so long: for love, food, shelter, comfort; ultimately tagging along on our errands; waiting their turn as we worked out carpools and event schedules; even planning for a night out without them was more about them (i.e. remember trying to find a sitter?).  Then, overnight — literally, OVERNIGHT — on their 16th birthday, they become so much more self-sustaining.

I really don’t remember what my life was like before I was a parent.  You hear that a lot from moms and dads.  But it’s not really accurate in describing this path we’re taking.  I have memories, of course, of doing things with friends and family before I became a Mom.  What I don’t know is the feeling of the long-term physical absence of someone who became this close to my heart and soul — who is made of me.  How do you prepare for saying ‘goodbye’ to part of yourself?

My friend K calls this “pre-mourning.”  Her son is the same age as mine, will be graduating the same day as Z, and will leave for college this summer, too.  K and I have chatted about the upcoming metamorphoses — for the boys and ourselves.  She was warned about the dangers of pre-mourning, namely beginning the process of saying goodbye far too soon and missing out on — and being present in — the months preceding her son’s flight out of the nest.  I kept that advice close to my own heart over the last year, but it’s difficult to keep it from taking over the moments, though: at “the last” birthday celebration at home; “the last” Christmas where we’ll all be here to decorate the tree; “the last” field trip; “the last” game of the season; “the last” “the last” “the last…”

And yet… I’m so incredibly excited for Z!

 

College!  Getting to know so many new people, from more places than ever before!  Fall football games and all-nighters; school traditions and trying new things; forming friendships that he’ll have far into his future; meeting those special few who become mentors helping to draft his career path.

How can I feel so excited and sad at the same time?  I’ve never felt it on this level before.  And I know this feeling will take on an even different texture as we pack him up to move into his new home in August.  Author Dr. Brené Brown describes it this way: “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away.”  And that’s exactly how I’m feeling — two opposite emotions at the same time are taking my breath away.

There’s no rule that says we are only allowed to feel one thing at a time — but that’s how we want it to work.  Otherwise it becomes overwhelming.   And no one wants to feel overwhelmed, because then we’re not in control.  Guess what?  We parents of older teens haven’t been in control for a long time.  It’s just now becoming apparent to me.  And I am overwhelmed with giant waves of feelings, all at once, out of the blue, sometimes at the strangest times.  All I can do is ride it out.

I have no illusions that I’ll be able to get through graduation nor moving day without crying.  Fortunately, Z knows I’m like this, so he expects it.  But even he may be surprised at how many tissues I’ll go through this time, all the while smiling like a maniac because I’m so damned proud.  He may chalk that up to Mum being a hormonal idiot.  That’s ok.  I can’t explain it to him, not yet.  Maybe if he becomes a parent, and on the eve of his child graduating I can say “I know,” and hand him tissues.

And then we’ll talk about having mixed feelings about this.

Until Friday, Friends.  Cheers!