Sunday, April 6, 2014

The First to Go

The first thing to go was his dependence.
“No, Mom, I’ve packed my own lunch.  Don’t worry about it.
   All of my work is turned in, my externship secured.
      Graduation is at six on the twenty-fourth. 
          Do you think Grandma and Grandpa will make it?
It’s okay if they don’t.  I understand.”

Then there were fewer hugs which were
unceremoniously replaced 
by a forty-hour work week,
   a tidied room,
      clothes in the hamper,
    and gas in the car.
--all none of my doing.

It slipped away quietly, almost over night--
an Adult World kidnapping that left no ransom note,
no explanation.
Just emptiness in a mother’s heart--
a heart that once
     Begged for cleanliness,
     Nagged about deadlines, and
     Longed for independence--his
      independence, not mine.

Now, in silence I sit
     alone in a clean room--holding the bear that
    once calmed childhood fears and eased teenage angst--
   praying for the power that will soothe
      a mother’s aching heart
         and fill her hungry arms
        until his hugs return--home.

Friday, April 4, 2014


The first day the school bus stopped outside my house, it gobbled up my five-year-old son then growled and spat at me as it drove away, consuming the fruits of my parenting labors thus far. I spent the rest of the day in a state of wonder and "Kyle" query: What was his teacher like? Who were his new friends?  How were the snacks?  What did they learn, make, or do?  Just after three o'clock my questions were answered with the ringing of the phone. On the other end was Miss Mellor, Kyle's teacher. The dismissal bell had rung and she "just needed to call" before my son made his way home. She timidly explained that the school day had not gone well for Kyle after he knocked over the contents of a jar and in his embarrassment, hid his face and refused to clean up the mess.  She tried everything a skilled teacher does to help a student right a wrong, but his embarrassment was paralyzing, and he held firm, ignoring her request to help in the clean up.  "This is the first time I've had a student turn a card on the first day of school," she mused, then asked if there was anything else she could have done to persuade Kyle to follow her directives.  Wanting to crawl under the kitchen table myself, I assured her that she had done everything possible and I would talk to my son.  I hung up the phone and headed for the bus stop, this time in a completely different state of wonder:  How could I have failed so badly as a parent? Where had I gone wrong? What was Kyle thinking--disobeying his teacher--embarrassed or not? How could I help him get over the humiliation factor? Had I really taught him that little mistakes were such a big deal? ... I knew the answer to that one, so I ended my self-directed reflection with: It is only the first day of school for crying out loud!!!

As the bus came to a halt, its brakes squealed  "MommyLoserrrrrrrr!" then the exhaust gave an exasperated "Pffffft!" in my direction. It deposited Kyle and again spat at me as it lumbered away.

Before I could say, "Hey, bud!" my back-packed kindergartener walked toward me, shaking his head and lamenting, "My teacher hates me," before bursting into tears. Taking a deep breath and figuring that his hypersensitivity to humiliation played a major role in Kyle's obstinance, I did my best to listen as he gave his account and tried not to shame him further like I normally would.

With a firm hug I explained that even though it was an accident and he didn't like the attention his mistake had drawn, he always needed to do what the teacher asked--even though the teacher was nice... and calm ... and didn't freak out ... and didn't scream emphatically ... and didn't say bad words ... or flail her arms ... like a lunatic ... like Mommy did. Hence, parent and child learned an important lesson that day--one that continues.

If memory serves, we made a snack then composed an apology note to Miss Mellor. I then added a P.S. that read, "Please assure Kyle that you like him.  He feels terrible and needs your validation."  It was the first of many notes signed with a heartfelt, "Thanks for all you do" to my child's teacher.

As hoped, Kyle returned home from school the following day feeling like a rock star, Miss Mellor his biggest fan.


Though that was nearly fourteen years ago, I cannot help but reflect on that day as so many of these same feelings reemerged last Wednesday when we dropped off Kyle at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. I couldn't help but wonder how things were going: Who was his companion?  What would his responsibilities be?  Would the language come easily or would it be a battle? What day would be his P-day? Did he have everything he needed?  Would he regret not taking his heavy coat?  And most daunting of all, had I done my part to prepare him?  Had we written enough thank you notes and apology letters and righted enough of the wrongs along the way?

Knowing I wouldn't get an email until the following week but longing for any word, I found myself checking my mail incessantly the next day at school.  Tears came easily as the magnitude of two years--two long, agonizing, waiting-for-news, hoping-he-was-okay years were upon me.  Even though we had carefully planned, set money aside, organized and prepped for this time, somehow it still overwhelmed me. A student of mine who had missed school the prior Tuesday for her brother's missionary homecoming, greeted me in the office, and as I asked her how her family was, the words caught in my throat and I began to tear up.  Later that day, upon seeing her in class, I tried again with the same result but managed to eek out a "Tell your mom I'm happy for her."  The thought of my son's return seemed so far away, yet I longed for it already. I just couldn't go there.

Once school let out, I held it together long enough to take care of a church obligation, a dance costume, and some grocery shopping. I then went home, leaned on my husband, and cried--the unknown weighing heavy on my heart.  When I couldn't take that any longer, I got up and did what I knew my mother would do: I made a huge batch of applesauce cookies and loaded them into a Ziploc. Along with them I added two Sobees, a note, and a bag of dried mangoes from Costco--Kyle's favorite.  Thankfully, a neighbor who works at the MTC had offered to provide personal delivery service, so I didn't worry that the box weighed close to fifteen pounds.

Feeling better, I sat down to relax for a minute and began checking my phone for texts and messages from friends.
And there it was. 
The most anticipated email of all time. 
A few days early. 

No, he wasn't having a hard time, and no, he hadn't been embarrassed (yet), nor had he been asked to 'turn a card.' He simply needed me to track down his first Hepatitis B immunization that was given in the hospital but apparently never written on his pediatrician's record.  He didn't have time to write much but promised to give more details on Tuesday, his P-Day. He ended is letter "con amor, Elder Thompson" then added: "tambien my companion is elder costello the one we met at the temple we are now zone leaders"  

And with that, I realized that my boy was going to be okay. Whether he could punctuate or not, he was going to be okay. And so am I.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sugar, We're Going...Where?

Sugar, We’re Going…Where?
Confessions of a Future Rock Star’s Mother

Being the mother of an emerging rock star can pose several dilemmas. When it comes to the hair, how long is too long? When it comes to the music--how loud is too loud? The attention from the opposite sex--how much is too much? Granted, some of these quandaries are beyond a mother's control, but my maternal instincts tell me I should exert every last ounce of parental power I can before my influences are drowned out by the next “bigger is better” amp purchase. Call it intuition or just plain common sense: When my son's amplifier is taller than I am and outweighs me by fifty pounds, my days of motherly control are over. But until that day arrives, I plan to buckle up and hold on, trying my best to enjoy my son's proverbial ride to stardom. And if this past week is any indication of my ability to do just that, I think I can get through it—hopefully without puking.

Our week began with a conversation I should have had with Lane long before he and his buddies began practicing. However, staying true to my typical (lazy) parenting style, my opportunity for a preemptive strike had long since passed and I was left feeling two drum beats behind--like a singer off key, a menagerie of confusion, a tempo that was all wrong (I'm not sure where these metaphors are coming from...but you get the idea). It went something like this:

Me: (Closing my book of scripture, feeling uplifted, full of joy...and completely unprepared for the irony that was about to unfold) So, what song are you guys singing for the Stars Assembly audition?
Lane: It's called “Sugar We're Going Down.”
Me: (Long pause, accompanied by a look of motherly constipation)
Lane: What? Mom, why does your face look like that?
Me: Do you have it on your I Pod?
Lane: Yes.
Me: Go get it.

As I waited for him to emerge from the basement, my head began reeling. The lyrics to a popular Def Leppard song from my youth were made readily available in my mind.  Something about pouring sugar on me…name of love (ooh)…hot-sticky sweet, from my head to my feet (yeah)…

Was I really going from reading my scriptures one minute, to explaining the sexual connotations of “sugar” and what “going down” can mean the next? Just as I was beginning to taste bile in my throat, a moderately annoyed 15- year-old returned, handing me his earbuds. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, I listened to the song, my eyebrows raised, trying to hide any signs of prejudice before the last note ended.

Me: (Turning to Lane and maintaining a hollow look of nonjudgment) Hey, I need you to go print the lyrics for me.
Lane: (Rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath as he makes his way to the office) No swearing......can't believe it......nothing wrong with stupid...

Again, in his absence I was able to collect my thoughts: Okay, the “going down” reference isn't sexual but rather, suicidal. Not that there aren't plenty of other sexual innuendos that need to be addressed, but they aren't as graphic as what I had initially anticipated. Nevertheless, I have to divide my brain between an anti-sex and an anti-violence mindset. Here he comes...

Me: (Ignoring Lane's sighs of impatience and perpetual eye rolling as I read through the lyrics. Looking up at him, grilling commences). Okay, do you know what it means to be a notch in someone's bedpost?
Lane: No.
Me: It means you have had sex with them.
Lane: What? Nobody will know that!
Me: Do you know what voyeurism is?
Lane: It doesn't say that! I've never even heard that word before!
Me: It means that you watch people do private things in private places without their knowledge. It's creepy. And illegal.
Lane: So?
Me. So this song is about a guy who is stalking his ex-girlfriend (with whom he has had sex) and watches her and her new boyfriend do naughty things in her bedroom. Then, to top it all off, he is threatening to shoot himself in the head...and you want me and your father to approve this?
Lane: But it doesn't say those things! You are just reading into it. Nobody else will get that stuff.
Me: (Feeling both confused and delighted at my son's naivety but wanting to prove my point). You don't think junior high kids will know what it means to, and I quote, “be the friction in your jeans?”

Silence. Point made.

Obviously, this was not the only conversation we had about this song. There were several. We also talked about the need to approve upcoming songs with parents before the band spends weeks practicing them. I then took it upon myself to inform the other band members' parents that I would be responsible for lyric censorship in the future, since, according to Lane, I am the only adult on the planet who reads into words and analyzes their "hidden" meaning...

As for the 'Sugar' song, we fought back and forth and finally reached a compromise. They could perform the song after changing the “friction in your jeans” line, as it was deemed the most overtly crude and offensive. It was a weak compromise, I know, but somehow I felt okay about it. Perhaps I justified it by promising myself that from that point on, I would take a more proactive role and be more diligent in policing lyrics and song content. Another justification stemmed from the fact that I had witnessed, first hand, how much these kids wanted to perform for their peers, and I wasn't willing to thwart their efforts by ignoring the countless hours of practice and the determination they had invested. So at the risk of seeming more like a groupie than a mother, I conceded.

On the morning of the Stars Assembly, their first 'official' gig, I walked into the school auditorium, wondering whether or not I had made the right decision. Ten years ago I would have said that any mother who would allow her son to perform a “Sugar” song was an idiot, a naive dunce who was practically leading her child to the path of moral corruption. But, when that curtain opened, and I watched Lane and his friends live what they had deemed their “junior high dream,” all doubt washed away.  With every strum of the guitar, with every flip of the hair, with every croon of the indecipherable lyrics, I knew I had made the best decision concerning my son.  I didn’t need a roaring crowd of rowdy junior high students to confirm it, but admittedly, their screams of affirmation only echoed the pride I felt. And, when Lane wouldn't let me leave his school that day without hugging me in front of his friends and whispering, “Thank you, Mom,” another little voice told me that my motherly influence is, and perhaps always will be, louder than any amplifier my rock star can ever buy.

I know. I know. Who's being naive now...