It’s all heaped on the edge of the couch and the small ottoman next to his long limbs. He’s twisted up in an old comforter, and out cold.
I touch his arm and he opens his eyes. “I don’t need to print this morning,” he murmurs, and turns over.
The lights are still on. He’s fully dressed. I’m certain he was up until three or four and waking him is the last thing I want to do, and exactly what I must do. “Ten more minutes,” I say.
His face, when he sleeps, is still the child’s.
I’m a stickler for the right term if I’m not too weary to unearth it. Our choice of words frames our reality. And I tell myself: My son is going through a rough time, but not a bad one.
The business of parenting
I sip my first strong cup of coffee as I open the fridge and remove the usual: turkey, muenster cheese, mayo, and whatever bread I found on special this week.
I begin the business of making his sandwiches as I’ve done for years. Mechanically. Mindlessly.
I wrap them, bag them, then return to the couch a second time, and a minute later, a third. He stirs, and on the fourth attempt to wake him – a kiss on the cheek – he sits up, stares blankly, and runs his fingers through his hair.
“Did you get it all done?” I ask, and he says “nearly” and heads to the bathroom. I know his body language, and my chest aches at the sight of his exhaustion.
My 17-year old is carrying an onerous load, but not an impossible one. It requires constant choices that are hard for him to make.
He is experiencing the consequences of two rigorous programs simultaneously – one in academics, and the other in the arts. It’s unusual for a student to be pursuing both, which is the heart of the problem. And his heart lies in the arts – and he hasn’t learned to compromise the work of his heart for the other interests that also tug at him.
I am conflicted for him; proud of the nature that creates with such passion, while trying to teach him the skills and necessity of prioritizing.
He is working through his choices. Living the weight of what he’s trying to accomplish. Hoping for a shot at building his dreams – literally.
Semantic issues, a tough job
Semantics enable us to clarify intention, observation, and understanding. We select our words to take advantage of nuance. But making meaning is a tough job.
My own mind is fuzzier than I care to admit, and wanders back to the days of divorcing, to what I wish I had known and never imagined, to the assumptions I made and no reason to do otherwise, to the slow path of acceptance that my concept of right and wrong was neither shared nor enforceable. And here I am.
Here we are.
It’s been a long, arduous road. Terrifying at times. And glorious.
My son emerges from the bathroom and he loads his backpack. He takes a few bites of the breakfast I’ve set on the table. He apologizes for not finishing his food.
I smile. He’s so polite.
He sits quietly beside me as I drive, and I know that silence is the better path for both of us. Before I let him off at the door, I tell him to call if he needs something, and he nods.
“You’re so close,” I say.
“I know,” he answers.
These days the register of his voice startles me. It is a man’s voice. These days his willingness to converse is a welcome development. He solicits my opinion, rather than tolerating it.
His focus impresses me. His humor reassures me. His fatigue concerns me. But then, I’m not much of an example in that regard. We both have goals that are far from frivolous, and a marathon to run. I was running it alone for years. Now, we’re running it together.
The best thing I’ve ever done
When my 17-year old came home from his summer – his very tough academic program – he said “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
I struggle with a bigger picture than he possesses, naturally. I am also processing the imminent reality of empty nest, and genuine turmoil faced with the blank canvas that lies ahead. I am working through fatigue of my own, and learning of my own. I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, relieved that the burdens I’ve shouldered will ease, though they will not disappear.
We are each confronting significant challenges, but not unmanageable ones. There will be disappointments. There will be victories. It’s been a grueling decade for me; I cannot hide it even if I try. Yet when it comes to parenting my boys, general terms rather than specific seem to say it all: It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.