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.