First Two Days of High School

When he started at his last school, he was four, and his three-year-old brother was in class with him – a two-year preschool.

I walked him in every day. I waited until the teacher hugged him or shook his hand or said good morning. I volunteered in the classroom with other moms – for a number of us, it was our first or only. And we have been laughing, encouraging, comparing notes ever since.

But at this new school – high school – he forges his own path. No mom. No little brother fingerpainting at the next easel. Only one known friend among 500 in his class. We both know it would look silly for me to walk him in. I don’t know his teachers, and they haven’t watched him grow up. Don’t yet know his slow-to-reveal humor and wonderful personality.

His brother asked to come yesterday when I picked him up after his first day. “It feels weird that I’ve never even seen his school.”

And when our high schooler got out of the car on the morning of Day 2, he sighed, “I feel a little sad.”

Me too, sweetie. But you get stronger, more impressive every day. You’re going to do great!

Independence is Good, Mom

My friend moved back into the neighborhood where we met more than 40 years ago, and recently described how the quiet streets where we roamed have opened up a new-found independence for her daughters too. Her girls ride their bikes to the pool like we did, walk to restaurants for lunch, stop in at the grocery store for snacks like we did, and sometimes don’t come home until after 10 at night. It’s summer after all. And she is excited for them, because she remembers how much fun we had at their age.

Soon after, my sisters were re-telling a story about a funny walk home from the same grocery store, now remodeled and shinier. We laugh every time we remember it, and top that one with other oft-remembered suburban adventures with each other and our friends.

But our mom worries that too many of our stories were unbeknownst to her. She wonders aloud, in fact, if she was the engaged, good mother she thought she was.

Silly wonderings of every mom – jennswonderings  – as our children grow up. Was I a good mom? Did I guide them well? Did they know how much I loved them?

What she forgets, as she worries, is that our stories are happy ones. That we look back on our childhoods with humor. That as sisters, our stories were shared ones in which we all played a part for much longer than most.

Our mom trusted us to go out into the world and play. So, she missed a few things. That, at some point, was her job.

My hope for my kids is supposed to be that as I let them loose to play in the world, they will have fun stories that I won’t remember because I wasn’t there. Yet such letting go breaks my heart. I want to be part of their days, laughing, listening.

And I worry that as they collect their own stories, my stories will be less … less everything… because three sweet boys are not always in them.

Bouncy World

On beach vacations since I was eight, our toes typically remained in the sand, except for an afternoon of mini golf or a few trips for penny candy. So, a beach vacation where the beach itself is not spectacular, means readjusting expectations.

Well, my expectations. The kids are not as tied down.

So, when the largest bouncy water slide we’d ever seen loomed into view high above us on Day One, I privately groaned. And when the one slide turned into an entire park of bouncy castle fun, I knew, reluctantly, I was doomed to miss at least a day of beach time.

One side of the park houses water slides of all sizes. No shoes. No socks. Probably not quite sanitary. The other side is home to dry bouncy adventures. Socks, please. For a dollar, we bought a pair of black socks for the nine-year-old in flip-flops. New or from the Lost and Found? I’d rather not know.

In-between the two lands – wet and dry – are two snack bars, picnic tables, beach chairs, and even cabanas for $50 a day extra. Families bring their coolers and stay the day or check into the adjacent motel for stay-and-play special weekends.

And the place, unimagined by me prior to this week, was packed.

I let my guys loose, found a chair in the sun, and opened a good book. They played for more than three hours, and would have stayed much longer. No fights. No whining. No injuries. No “can we go home now?”

One stopped by for a rest every so often. Another sat for a snack, then rushed off again, dragging his older brother with him. I only caught glimpses of the youngest racing between slides, or heard his voice yelling as he plummeted downward or calling out a challenge to whatever child waited in line behind him.

“The best part of vacation!” “We have to come back!”

As we fly home, I already miss the sun and the sand, and the possibility of every day being a good beach day. But I have to admit, Bouncy World – in all its plasticky, dirty, strange distortion of my vacation expectations – was the highlight for the boys, ready to go back in a second.

First Catch

During last week’s camping trip, and our youngest son’s second fishing outing, he bemoaned the fact that he has never caught a fish. So, in a stellar Dad move, my husband asked a friend where to go, got a fishing license, and we all (crazy dog included) drove up to Jefferson Lake, Colorado. It’s a beautiful location in the mountains, and it was a gorgeous summer day.

We walked about a half mile along the shore and set up camp. I was in charge of the dog, who was much-enamored with the chipmunks.

About an hour later, a shout went out across the water. “I caught a fish! I caught a fish!” So ridiculously loud, in his usual way, that I am surprised all the fish didn’t immediately vacate the premises.

We raced toward him with net, tackle box, camera, and cheers.

“I feel like I won the lottery!” he beamed.

The best though, was how he carried the dead fish back to the car, out in front of him, smiling from ear to ear, slowing down as he approached other fishermen and their families, so they could stop and look and express how impressed they were with his catch.

If that weren’t awesome enough, in a second stellar Dad move, there was a recipe waiting at home. The proud fishermen prepared and cooked the rainbow trout in butter and brown sugar, and then we all ate.

I think he might be hooked.

Twelve Days in the Wilderness

My eighth grade Environmental Science trip included a week of canoeing and camping, and I remember it like it was yesterday. The night it rained so hard our tent collapsed. M&M soap operas with rationed candy. Being first in line in the cave. Learning to steer.

I am one of the few who loved middle school, and that week was the best of it. So, I was excited when my son wanted to go on his school’s version of that trip. Still, sending him off into the wilderness was a little unnerving. He’s the one who admits to being afraid of the dark. The one who hates to exercise. The one who wants pasta every night for dinner.

So, during their two-day drive to the boundary waters in Canada, I expected some hint from him how he was doing. It turns out, no one on the trip called home before leaving their cell phones with the outfitter.

And his texts went like this:

“At Wall Drug.”

“I found your letter.” (I left a little card in his backpack telling him how proud of him I am and how excited that he gets to go on this adventure.)

“Mini golf course.”

“The fleas on the prairie dogs in the Badlands had the bubonic plague.”

“Yes.” “You too.” “Too late. Goodnight.”

Then… “Good night. Not bringing my phone canoeing, so this might be my last text message. I love you!”

And as the days of his adventure go by, I realize that I never called my parents. We didn’t have cell phones. And like me learning to navigate the river, they were fine.

In the Dursleys’ Wine Cellar

Our youngest is not a “bed” guy. For years, he slept on the floor in his brothers’ rooms, dragging sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and his book down the hall every night.

With the older two entering teen-dom, however, their patience eventually dried up. So, he set up camp on the floor in his own room right next to his bed. It took us a few months of cajoling to realize he is afraid of falling out of bed. So, we bought a queen-size mattress and put it on the floor (no bedsprings) with new super soft, red fleece sheets.

It worked. For months, he climbed into bed every night, then spent ten minutes methodically setting up shop. Large stuffed bear and pillows along the non-wall side. Seven foxes snuggled against Big Bear in order of whose night of the week it was to sleep closest to him. “Blue Blanky” as first blanket, because it’s his favorite, then the others on top.

But something snapped.

He realized that if he pulls the mattress away from the wall, he can set up a bed back there… on the floor.

The ten-minute bedtime process got moved.

Then two nights ago, when he was feeling sorry for himself, it moved again…

…to the closet.

“I want to hide from the world!”

Big Bear, Blue Blanky, pillow, foxes, flashlight, book all in the smallest possible place to sleep. Shirts hanging just above him.

“Like Harry Potter’s bed at the Dursleys’,” I said, thinking that would discourage him. But by Night #2, it was his happy place.

Harry had to sleep in the wine cellar. Remember? It was under the stairs.”

As if that made all the difference.

And in all my years of reading Harry Potter books, I never pictured the Durselys drinking wine.

The Ambler

My husband and I dragged our fourteen year old along on a 6-mile walk on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. A long walk with Mom and Dad was a lot less threatening than a short run with Dad. So, there we were, taking in the scenery, talking, soaking in the late spring sunshine.

And he complained. Are we there yet? You walk too fast. It’s hot. You’re annoying. How have you not broken a sweat?!

Nearly approaching the end, we passed by a very small elderly woman with her very small dog, and he grinned, “Now that’s a good walking speed!”

He demonstrated for us what his walk looks like, probably in a ploy to slow us down, and we debated the correct word for it. Amble? Stroll? Waddle? Is walking even a sport?

He was very funny.

Then today, as the boys and I walked to school, he explained to his brothers how he had suffered so on Saturday. Mom and Dad walk too fast. It was hot. They’re annoying.

And he showed them his walking “style”, short, slow-motion steps. “I take the time to appreciate my surroundings. Look at that beautiful tree! And this chain link fence? It’s a metaphor for humanity linking arms and taking care of each other.”

“Wow, you’re boring to walk with,” said his younger brother.

“But when you walk fast,” now on the defensive, “you can’t think of metaphors!”