Monday, June 28, 2010

Mom Here, Mom There...

This is how last Tuesday went down: I am out here in gorgeous Jackson Hole, with two weeks alone before my husband and daughter will join me and then a week after that we pick up Jack, our youngest now 14, who attends Teton Valley Ranch Camp for a month. Older son #2 had hitched his way up from Utah to spend a couple of days with me, and in the wee hours of Tuesday's dawn, I agreed to drive him four hours to the closest major highway in Wyoming so that he could start thumbing his way back East.

Because this is what mommies do: go that extra mile (or in my case over 200 extra miles!) for their kid. Conveniently, Jack's camp was midway between where I dropped Kenny off near Casper, and Jackson Hole, so I planned on stopping by for a quick peek and a hug from Jack, and drop off a few fun items for him.

I got Kenny to his asked-for destination, snapped a picture of him with his backpack containing what he terms "his life," gave him a strong embrace and got back into the car with tears streaming down my face as I watched him in the rear-view mirror, thumb out, hopeful. And so vulnerable. Just like saying "goodbye" to his older brother, Staff Sgt. Blake Flannery (just to be official about it!), it never gets easier, as I wonder and then try to banish the fleeting thought that it might be the last time. I said a prayer and drove on, back towards Jackson.

Although it had only been 10 days since I had last been with Jack, I was still pumped to catch a few minutes with him. Minutes after arriving at the camp, I met his counselor and he led me across the green to Jack's cabin, the same one that my daughter Jess had been in during her "Wrangler" year; each summer the campers are put into adventure groups according to age and experience the prior season.

Jack's counselor, a friendly and amiable young man whose name I have somehow forgotten because I am old, haha, held open the door to the cabin. The campers were all in there, doing daily clean-up. Jack was standing there by his bunk, broom in hand, and didn't blink, didn't widen his eyes, didn't smile and generally didn't look the least surprised - not to mention pleased! - to see me pop in out of thin air. Inside I bummed out, and knew instinctively not to hug him in front of the other guys. I felt decidedly rejected. How is it that one kid was effusively thankful to have been with me for a couple of days, and the other wishing I would just disappear?

Within a minute, maybe two, we ambled back across the green to my car, chatting about his recent 4-day pack trip with the horses and the Lakers recent reclamation of the NBA title. Pushing 14-year-old boy bravado aside, I went in for a quick hug and when I pulled away he grinned the grin of the youngest child, allowing me a brief glimpse of the little boy who loves him mommy in spite of his need to break away, at least in front of his peers.

I headed back down the dusty camp road with a smile. Until I got a phone call from my husband regarding the shenanigans of our daughter, 17, and freshly freed from her junior year in high school. Turns out a small "pool party" at our house the first afternoon of her summer vacation and yielded the absence of three beers from our heretofore securely locked garage-living fridge.

"What should I do?" the other, on-site parent asked. My response was both incredulous at the inquiry and not altogether friendly and sweet.

"Are you kidding?!" was one of my responses. "Get a new lock, pronto,let her know that you have caught her and read her the riot act. Duh!"

"Maybe you should call her, too," he half-asked, half-begged though I am positive he didn't realize that was the tone he had adopted.

And so, from 2,000 miles or more away, I had to help lay down the law, in spite of the fact that in absentia, there was pretty much no way to enforce it or police it, live and in person. Still and all, the mom goes the extra mile and I gave it the old college try, insisting that daddy knows exactly how many beers are in that refrigerator and please don't put yourself, your friends and us in danger.

"Okay mommy," she suprisingly agreed. "I miss you and I love you." Awww, I can always count on my only daughter to come through with the fondness, even in the face of an mom ultimatium.

So there you have it: three of the four children settled or sent on their way or dealt with. Three kids asserting or attemting to assert their independence.

Sigh. I have said it before and I will always postulate, that raising children never gets easier. Just more, um, interesting.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

High School Graduation: A Parent's Primer?

Depending upon your child's status - only child or youngest - it is here, graduation, the last high school event you will attend as a spectator. Your grad-to-be is a whirlwind of conflicting emotions: excited, happy, melancholic, confident, nervous, wary, maybe even a bit incredulous that the day is finally here; you of course, are containing those same feelings.

As soon as the first five or six notes of "Pomp and Circumstance" are played, you will either be swallowing a lump as big as a baseball, or you will be full on leaking tears, perhaps a fist pressed against your mouth, or dabbing a tissue about your eyes either frantically or with discretion, as you crane your neck or strain forward seeking to spot your grad walking jauntily into the stadium or auditorium.

The name for the song (actually entitled "Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches") was taken from Act III of Shakespeare's "Othello:"
"Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner and all quality
Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war!"

It may not be a total stretch to think of high school, of those teenage years from 14 to 18, as a sort of war, a war of words, of will and of wisdom. And not just between parent and child, but also between student and teacher, student and student, maybe even student and themselves.

As you sit there at the ceremony, filled with pride and awe, you might also be fast-forwarding a month, six, or eight weeks ahead to when your high school grad becomes a college freshman and you will have to face the empty, half empty, maybe a quarter empty, nest. My two oldest graduated from New Canaan High in 2001 and 2003, and so I have had a my nest emptied piecemeal; my daughter will graduate next June, and my baby will christen my nest officially empty in 2014.

Some words of advice are in order. Number 1: Seek out other moms and dads who are in the same newly rocked boat, as well as those whose children - as well as themselves - have gone before you. Support is always a good thing. Number 2: Do not turn your child's bedroom into a guest room, office or home gym. Not yet. For the next two or four years, they will still be coming home for holidays and the summer and do not need to feel as if you have discarded them, not to mention all of their stuff, their memories, their childhood. And one last recommendation: If they don't declare a major right away, or if they change from one to another, do not push them, and do not panic. All children - whether they are five or 25 - need to find their own way, feel it out. They felt enough parental and societal pressure pre-graduation. Ease up and allow them to flap their wings.

A lot of seniors may have known as freshman where they wanted to attend college, and perhaps a majority saw that goal come to fruition. Conversely, there are those who will make do with a second or third choice for the time being; or maybe they will grow to love where the fates led them. A few of you will have graduates who will be taking a 'gap" year before college, and there will be those who intend to pursue something else altogether; no matter what your child chose to do, you should be as proud of the daughter who wants to work with gardens and ivy as the son who studies at an ivy covered campus.

My oldest chose not to enter college before the military. This was not a popular, nor understood by the majority, choice at all. But I felt so fortunate that I had a child who knew - and who had known - exactly what he wanted to do with his life, even, as I said, it was an unusual, hardly traditional for our area, decision. Maybe your child has selected the road less traveled, too. Be happy.

Be happy all of you, for although we may think of the words "graduation" and "commencement" and envision an end, the meaning of the word "commencement" is: "an act or instance of commencing; beginning."

May your child's beginning be a wonder.