Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lasts and Firsts

Sam and the enormous beyond.

Hoo, boy.  What a roller coaster of a day.

This morning, I dropped Caroline off at her new playgroup that she'll be in once a week this fall, and Sam and I headed out for our last morning together before he starts Kindergarten next week.  All this last year and some of this summer, he and I have had our Thursday morning date.  It usually involved a trip to Fresh Flours in Ballard for a latte for me and a shared pastry served up by our favorite barista, coincidentally also named Sam.  We'd sit in the window and people-dog-bird watch and chat, or read together a chapter book like Ramona or one of the Junie B. stories.  Then around 10:30, we'd amble over to the OAC for some time in the pool.  Sam is a fairly capable swimmer now, so we'd laugh and do laps together and occasionally I'd get creamed by a cannonball.  Then, we'd shower and get dressed and go to pick up Caroline.

This time, Sam wanted to do a bike ride.  We met a friend for coffee and a donut for fuel, then took our bikes on the Mothership to Gasworks Park.  We rode to the north edge of the U and on the way back stopped at an apple tree along the path, where Sam shimmied up the trunk and tossed down a few choice pieces of fruit.  We stuffed them in our pockets and washed them in the water fountain at the park, then climbed up Kite Hill while munching them.  Sam deemed his too sour and tossed it bites and all to the ambling geese, who greedily stabbed at it.  We both laughed hard when I tossed mine and it bounced unpredictably and hit a surprised goose in the butt, in the way things like that are only funny to a six-year-old and his mother.

I was on shaky ground by the time we got home after picking up Caroline and making a quick stop for lunch.  A few small, inconsequential chicken-peck type of annoyances sent me into a bit of an emotional swamp, so I turned on the TV to Curious George and hopped in the shower hoping to somehow gain some perspective while in there.  When it crossed my mind to contact a friend to pray for me, it occurred to me that I can pray for myself...I am actually allowed to do that.  So after getting dressed, TV still on and kids still occupied, I headed downstairs and grabbed my rosary.

Yes, the enormous kid rosary.

And the dam broke and the tears came.  Before the words of the Hail Mary were even out of my mouth, drops were dripping off the end of my nose.  As I traveled the beads, my mind was turned toward what had been playing around the edge all day:  Jesus' first miracle at the wedding at Cana, the nativity of his ministry, his reluctance to begin it ("Woman, it is not yet my time!") and Mary's gentle prompt ("Do whatever he tells you to do.").  If there was anyone who understood how hard it is to let go of a child and allow them to fulfill their destiny, no matter what it would hold or how wrenching it was for you, it was certainly her.

Sam is no Jesus, and I am certainly no Mary (I'm not very good at the "pondering things silently her the heart" part - I'm more of a "tell everyone loudly how she's feeling and maybe make a joke about it" kind of girl).  Kindergarten isn't exactly turning water to wine.  But there is a hard truth to this time.  Sam has started his path away from me and toward his own purpose.  Truly, it started from the moment he was born.  But this, in a little way, is the first of many small Canas.  I am urging him onto a path that goes away from me.  For the first time, he will spend more waking hours during the week away from me than with.  He'll be finding out who he is apart from me, what decisions he makes, what people he likes, what activities thrill him.  I'll be there to support, but he'll mostly be on his own in the hours he's at school.

What will he find out?  What will I find out?  It's a mystery, just as it probably was to that holy woman almost 2000 years ago.

But we both certainly could appreciate at the time the enormity of the first step on the path, the hesitant movement towards an unknown destiny, for both mother and child.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Mirror

The best way I can describe the guy's face is that his expression was about a 80/20 mix.  80% was full of knowing sympathy, and 20% clearly read as "just smile and back away slowly from the crazy lady's car."

He had been in full earshot, courtesy of the Mothership's open sunroof, of me completely losing it.  I don't even remember what it was about, but something about Sam spilling his milk in my slippers (I'm still not sure why they were in the backseat of the car) and being distracted and then stuck in the middle of the intersection behind a stopped bus was the straw that broke the camel's back.  I snapped.  Somewhere in the middle of the tirade about how angry I was and what would happen if they did that ONE MORE TIME, I glanced over to the corner to see him standing there.  Before I could even react, the light changed and he was left in our dust.

But wait, I wanted to say.  You should have seen me before this happened!  I was so good!  So calm!  So patient!  For so long!  Really, mister, if you'd just been with me for the past three hours or so, you'd totally get it!  You wouldn't go home and tell your family about the insane woman who totally lost her snot on her kids on the corner of 46th and Fremont!

You see, I'd just spent two hours in the local tire center managing two small children during what was supposed to be no more than a one hour wait, and watched helplessly as it slowly stretched into two.  I'd come prepared with books, crayons, a fully charged iPhone.  I spent my time that first hour going from child to child, helping with a coloring suggestion, assisting with the filling of the free popcorn bag, taking small bladders on bathroom breaks, answering questions about the Mars rover, explaining the rules and regulations of Olympic volleyball.

All was well for the promised hour, and then...things started to go wrong.  As I gazed helplessly out the window at the Mothership, stripped of its tires and stranded on the lift, I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight zone.  In slow motion, things fell apart.  Fights broke out over the toy desk.  Random displays of heavy, metal auto parts started to look more tempting than Angry Birds.  Tires presented for sale began to resemble excellent choices for practicing riding and roping skills.  The floor apparently needed dusting with a small dress worn by a person.  As most parents know, things with kids can go from "a-ok" to "on fire" in about two seconds flat.  We were going down in flames, and I was stuck.

Eventually, perhaps because they finally decided they needed to get us out of there and spare their waiting room, someone came out and popped the tires on in exactly two minutes flat, I paid, and we were gone.

And then, somewhere on the way home, I met my friend on the corner.

Is there anything else besides parenting that holds up such an unflinching mirror?  And not a mirror of how we strive to be, or what we are most of the time, but of what we really are.  Sometimes, it's ugly.  Sometimes it's hard to look.  Every time I hear something coming out of one of my children's mouths that I've said to them in frustration or anger, I feel like a failure.  If I'm honest, I spend more time than I'd like hoping and praying that my children remember and repeat more of the good stuff than the bad stuff, both to themselves and to others.  Because some days, there's a lot of bad stuff.

I was sufficiently humbled by my run-in with the sympathetic/fearful pedestrian that I have found myself incredibly softened to other parents recently, parents that I would have been quick to judge.  Maybe I needed a little slice of humble pie to remind myself that I'm human, too, and that I so often fall short of the ideal.  We all do.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

And then, there was this today.  Caroline, after I apologized for putting her leotard on wrong, looked at me and said, "It's ok, Mommy.  Sometimes people make mistakes."  And Sam, seeing a crying child at the park, ran over and got down on his level.  From across the playground, I saw his mouth move to say, "Are you ok?"

And I have to remind myself, have to acknowledge, that they heard these things from me, too.