Last month, a friend was talking about how she feels like she is losing control of so many things in her children’s lives. Her eldest son will be heading for high school in September, and she had just learned he had watched The Hangover and Wedding Crashers while at a friend’s house: two movies she didn’t think were appropriate for someone his age.
“But what can I do?” she asked, shrugging her shoulders. “He was at someone else’s house? I can’t control everything all the time, can I?”
Then she began to fret over how her younger son’s bus driver allowed his middle school-aged riders to listen to all kinds of music, much of which she considered to have inappropriate lyrics.
“Did your son’s bus driver let the kids listen to music?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, honestly. I mean, the topic had never come up. “Let’s ask him.”
We called Monkey over from where he was doing something Monkey-ish to ask him our mommy-questions.
“Were you allowed to listen to music on the bus this year?” I asked.
Monkey thought for about .3 seconds and then answered with absolute certainty.
And then something happened inside my brain: a little click: that proverbial light-bulb warming to slow glow.
“Dude,” I smiled, “You don’t know what happens on the bus…” I paused for effect.
Monkey looked confused.
“You’re a walker!” I laughed.
Monkey smacked his forehead with his hand and wandered away laughing.
Our house is located about 200 feet from the back of my son’s school. Each morning at 7:13 AM, Monkey put his dishes in the sink, opened the sliding glass doors, and slid out back where he disappeared behind a bunch of pine trees and evergreens. We both know this. It was his routine for 180 days.
Our simultaneous forgetting was a peculiar mother-and-son moment.
We used to do so much together. Everything. For years, he was like an extra appendage, wrapped around my leg or lying across my lap. Many times, I have answered a question that he had not yet even asked.
“Yes,” I would say.
“I didn’t even ask you anything yet?” Monkey would say.
“Yes, you can have dessert. Go ahead.” And then we would cozy up on separate ends of the couch with only our toes touching, eating small bowls filled with vanilla ice cream and rainbow sprinkles.
Back then, he thought I was magic.
For a period there, I was sure I would remember everything, each detail. The curve of his pinky as it curled around his blue blanket while he napped.
But you don’t; you forget things.
And it’s okay, I guess.
I love that he is growing older, growing into the person he will one day become more fully.
But there are some things I miss: like those Vulcan mind-meld moments.
So I guess I’m mourning something, too.
What things have you forgotten lately that you know you should absolutely know?
As I sat waiting inside the local college field house, miles away from the actual school my nephew attended, I couldn’t help but think about my own graduation in 1985.
First, I have to admit that I have absolutely no recollection of who spoke at my high school graduation. (My sincere apologies, Mr. or Ms. Graduation Speaker. I am sure you were very good.)
I do remember sitting in my white cap and gown. (The boys wore red.)
I remember looking at my fabulous white high-heeled pumps and thinking about my tan. My tan was very important to me, as tans were to many of us back in the mid-1980s. We were not a very serious bunch. I mean, we were serious but in an 1980s kind of way. Which was not very serious. Yeah, we were going to college – but we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. At all. Maybe that was just me. But seriously, I don’t think so.
Where my nephew’s graduating class was focused, we were distinctly goofy. Of course some of us were more self-propelled than others, but as a class, we were more about fun. I may be making this up but I kind of remember someone pretending to trip and possibly even staging a fall as he walked to get his diploma. I wore a green lei around my neck during the graduation ceremony. On two separate occasions, the vice principal told me to remove it (and I did), but I slipped it back on before I walked across the stage for hand-shaking and hugs.
In 1985, I was more interested in the social interactions that high school had to offer than its academic challenges. I joined the “fun” clubs. I was a cheerleader. I danced and rode horses. I also got a lot of detentions; I even managed to earn myself a 3-day in-school suspension. Hell, I wore blue to graduation when we were clearly instructed to wear white or light colors. As a group, we did a lot of pushing the proverbial envelope.
In contrast, my nephew and his peers seemed pretty serious.
Maybe they have to be.
Given the current economic prognosis, they can’t afford to mess around the way we did in the decadent 80s.
I mean, it’s good to be thinking of more than just developing “a great base tan.”
The night of Alec’s graduation, as we celebrated his accomplishments with pizza and watermelon, I was surprised by how content Alec was to just hang out with his family. He played his ukulele, chatted with his grandparents, sat outside on a chunky patio chair with the men, their voices blending together in a low hum.
He seemed unfazed that he was leaving for camp the next day. He said he wasn’t too worried because he knew he would be able to keep in touch with his closest friends.
Immediately after my high school graduation, my clan of Best Friends Forever (The “BFF’s”) gathered in a parking lot to sip champagne from plastic glasses, and I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief and freedom.
Along with a side order of sadness.
Because I really didn’t think I was going to see any of my them ever again.
Let’s forget for a moment that the 1980s featured a lot of apocalyptic songs which suggested that we were all going to die in a nuclear war. (Think of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” “I Would Die 4 U” or Rush’s “Distant Early Warning”; Genesis’ “Domino” of Modern English’s romantic ballad “I’ll Stop The World and Melt with You.” Oh and Nena, the chick who brought us “99 Red Balloons.”)
Seriously. I didn’t think we were going to make it to our 10 year reunion.
But on a less morbid level, there were no cellphones back in 1985. No Facebook or Twitter. No texting.
I remember smiling big but feeling internally frantic. I could feel change on my skin as sure as I had felt the sun baking my shoulders for all those weeks leading up to graduation. Just like my nephew, I packed my duffel bag and trunk and headed off to (same) summer camp where I planned to work for 8 weeks as a counselor. Unlike my nephew, I felt loss in my bones.
I imagined myself standing in line waiting to use a dormitory payphone. But I knew I would never have enough quarters to call my friends as much as I would like. I also knew that even if I called, the odds were, they would not be around.
I knew I would have to find new people, and that I would have to work to make new friends. But I also accepted this as the natural order of things: growing up meant breaking bonds to form new ones.
After speaking with several graduates of the class of 2011, I realized that they are less sad than we were. With the advent of social media, friends need never disconnect from one another. Unless a person wants to become invisible, it is absolutely possible to remain in touch with one’s friends from high school. On a daily basis.
It remains to be seen if all this connection will be a blessing or a curse. I wonder if today’s students will remain perpetual teenagers, clinging to their childhood friendships, finding it difficult to move on and forge fresh bonds with new people, or if they will plunge into adulthood, embracing new opportunities while maintaining constant contact with old friends from back in the day.
As I watched graduates from the class of 2011 pose for photographs, then stop to text someone, thumbs a-blazing, I thought about what graduation really meant for me.
I was able to go to college and start fresh.
I made a conscious choice to stop being “the flirty girl” and reinvent myself as “the studious girl.” Would such a transformation have been possible if I had people from high school constantly reminding me of my flakiness? About how dumb I was in math? About the time I spilled the bong water? Or the time I started cheering “Block That Kick” when our team had possession of the football?
Is it possible to move forward and evolve when people are urging you to look back and stay the same?
What do you remember about your high school graduation? How do you think social media will impact future generations?
Recently, my super cool, crazy smart nephew was selected by his peers to deliver the commencement speech at his high school graduation which took place this past Sunday, June 25, 2011.
Our entire family was beyond overjoyed, and we joked that we would all need to wear Depends because, in real life, Alec is pee-in-your-pants funny! It is my understanding that during his last week of school, Alec wore some crazy stuff: weird retro sneakers; a hat with a pocket on it; a sleeveless, neon green pinny with the word “RUN” on it printed in hot pink. He was also spotted carrying a teenie-tiny, little Buzz Lightyear backpack, the kind of bag a little boy might tote to school on his first day of kindergarten. (It is also my understanding that everyone thought that his outfits and accessories were “off the chain.”)
I couldn’t wait to hear what Alec would say when he addressed the Class of 2011!
Here is what Alec said.
(NOTE: I edited Alec’s speech a bit for the sake of brevity. Please know Alec did all the niceties. He thanked the student officers, his teachers from kindergarten through twelfth grade, his parents, his siblings, and all the people who voted for him to speak. He also named specific individuals and rather than run around town getting written consent forms from everyone he mentioned, I simply omitted these specific references and kept things general.)
Good afternoon everyone.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Alec Jacobson.
When I found out that I was going to be speaking at graduation, it was actually quite anti-climactic.
I was sitting by myself in The Commons during homeroom, waiting for first period Gym to start, when I heard Mr. W. come on the announcements and say: “And congratulations to Alex Jacobson for being elected to speak at graduation.”
You can imagine that after I heard that I was pretty befuddled because:
a) I was trying to play the word “SPEAKER” on “Words with Friends”;
b) I never in a million years thought I would have enough friends to vote for me to speak; and
c) there was literally nobody in The Commons to whom I could turn and share my excitement.
So it was just me, my contained bliss, and a tad bit of rage due to W’s mispronunciation of my name.
But I got over it.
I alerted my mother of the news via text only to have her respond in all caps with: “OMG! OMG! Who are you?! Probably not my son.”
And then my sister texted me, “Congrats! You’re amazing.”
Never in my life would I have expected to be here.
Just a few weeks ago, I sat at the Senior Banquet when it hit me that we’re actually finished with high school. I remember looking around, and taking everything in, and I realized that we LOOK all grown up. Four years ago, all of us looked feeble, immature and — to be honest — awkward. I mean, I was just a short little red-head, a “ginger,” with very few friends. But now, we are adults.
We are old.
I may or may not still have red hair, but wow, we are a good-looking class.
More importantly, look at how far we have come.
For us, the future is bright.
The reality is that most of our high school years will be a blur. Sure, we’ll remember our good friends, our favorite teachers. We’ll remember our prom dates and those countless sectional titles that the boys’ and girls’ teams brought home. But the reality is that these events did not define us as a class. It is the people who have made this class truly one of a kind.
When looking at our class, many people define us by our intelligence. Sure, it is pretty incredible having students attending Harvard and Princeton and Yale. And nine going to Cornell. And while that is super impressive, the more defining aspect of our class is our diversity. We have people going to music school, business school, art school. Pre med majors, pre-law majors, and math majors. Future doctors, lawyers and CEOs right in this room seated before us. Because the truth is that this class is not only one of the most intelligent in our school’s history, but also one of the most unique.
For us, however, high school is just the beginning. It may seem like the end and, sure, it is the end of a remarkable four years. More importantly, this graduation marks a new beginning to our young lives. After all, I am giving a commencement speech, and the word “commence” means to begin.
I know it is sad, looking around right now and realizing that this may be the last time we are all together as a single, unified group. Tomorrow morning, I personally, will be going to camp for the entire summer, so to many of you, this is my goodbye. But I hate leaving things on a somber note, so I want you all to know that not only will I be back, but we’ll all be back: to make sure that our four years of high school aren’t just that blur. So I guess this isn’t truly goodbye, but an “until we meet again.”
In the meantime, go out and do something fun. Do something great with your summer and whatever lies ahead. For those of you who haven’t already seen it, watch the movie Into the Wild and tell me with a straight face that you don’t immediately want to immerse yourself in nature and discover your true self.
And like Mark Twain said: “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” Don’t rely on others to teach you things. Discover them yourselves because now we are on our own and the future lies in nobody’s hands but ours. Right now, we may think “these are the best days ever,” but they won’t be. We have so much more to do.
So go on out, Class of 2011, and live large.
Because as my friend penned in my yearbook: “Doesn’t everybody deserve to live large?
Alec’s friend touched on the elusive American Dream when he asked: “Doesn’t everybody deserve to live large?”
It’s a great question.
An affluent district that has been relatively untouched by the recession, I saw students fortunate to have such amazingly strong foundations. They have been able to concentrate on academic excellence. They have been able to focus on homework rather than having to work to help their parents make ends meet. They have lived in homes – nice ones with green lawns. They have had pets to cuddle and closets filled with the right clothes. Many have taken expensive vacations abroad. They have not gone to bed hungry. They have gone to bed in their own beds. As I looked around, I was strangely struck by how wealthy the school district in which I reside truly is. Not only in terms of fiscal resources, but in the fact that students are, for the most part, emotionally well supported.
Precious few have to tiptoe nervously in a world of instability.
And that is a blessing I am not sure they even realized.
When the Class President spoke, she quipped to parents in the audience that they needn’t fret about losing touch with their children because everyone is simply a text or Skype away.
This implied the ownership of laptops and/or cellphones.
No one batted an eyelash.
Of course these students have laptops and cell phones and unlimited calling plans.
It is implied that these students are going to live large.
For these students, the future is bright.
But I think about other students graduating from other districts, too — where the American Dream appears to have dried up. Where students are starting out in a slump. And as Dr. Seuss noted in Oh, the Places You’ll Go, “Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” I imagine Alec’s optimistic message was perhaps, a little different from other commencement speeches held around the country where the concept of graduation as a new beginning is something being met with less optimism and more uncertainty.
My nephew wrote a great speech which he delivered beautifully — and with a fair bit of self-deprecating humor.
His peers voted him “Most Likely To Become President.”
We know Alec is ready to fly.
My only wish would be for everyone to have that same opportunity to live large.
What wise words would you offer the graduating class of 2011? And do you think everyone deserves to live large?
June is definitely a time for endings and beginnings. Proms. Graduations. Weddings. New jobs. June has got me thinking about all the Junes in my life. My parents started their married life together on June 23, 1963. My son will become a bar-mitzvah next June. One of my grandmothers died in June. And one of my friends, too. I tried to think about some significant Junes in my life, and this is what was born:
• • •
Once upon a time, a November baby learned that she loved June. She played with bubbles and chased butterflies, rode her bicycle, played kick the can, and stayed out until the fireflies guided her home.
One June, the girl snapped her well-packed trunk and clipped her khaki duffel bag ready to spend seven weeks at overnight camp.
One June, the girl went to a prom in a ridiculous dress with ridiculous hair.
Four Junes later, the girl was no longer a girl. She graduated from the college she’d loved and, as she drove west in her beat-up Plymouth Volaré to live with a man she loved – prepared to insert herself into his house and into his life – she was terrified that everything was going to be different. And it was.
One terrible June, the girl sat in a room staring at a casket, and no matter how many people told her that the air conditioning wasn’t on too high, it felt like winter in that place.
One June, the girl found herself in New Orleans. She had finished her first year of teaching in a city that smelled like magnolias and crawfish. It was the hottest summer of her life and it lasted until November.
In a blink, it was June again. This time, she looked in the mirror and saw she was no longer a girl. She was seven months pregnant; her hands and ankles had swelled in the heat. As she fanned herself, she daydreamed about the future. Also, she ate a lot of watermelon.
One June, the November girl moved – along with her husband and her son – into a home nestled in a neighborhood with flowers and trees and children. And as she hung up her summer sundresses, she remembered bubbles and bicycles and butterflies, and she knew she was home.
This June, the woman knows there are wrinkles around her eyes – but she is less focused on herself. She sits at the computer and listens to her son, now almost 12, as he practices for his last piano lesson. The music is familiar. The clothes in the dryer bump around noisily in the background, everyone’s stuff mingled together. Hopefully, for many, many more Junes.
Can you share one particular memory from one particular June?
Recently, my family was chomping on chunks of bread at Outback Steakhouse, a place we often go after I announce that I didn’t make it to the grocery store.
As I sat in my old jeans, the thick, pine doors parted and in paraded boys wearing tuxedos with cummerbunds flanked by girls in fancy dresses with sparkles and sequins. I was bedazzled…
…and instantly transported back in time. To the mid-1980s. To my own school formals.
I went to Junior Prom with TB, a boy I had spent most of middle school trying to get to fall in love with notice me. Lord knows, we spent many afternoons in detention together as a result of misbehaving in French class. Before he moved to Philadelphia, however, I realized we were always going to be “just friends,” which was good enough for me. I sort of figured I’d never see him again, but he magically materialized to take me to prom.
Here’s what I remember about that prom. First, let’s just establish TB looked awesome in his tux. Done. Okay, now let’s talk about my dress. Featured in Seventeen Magazine, my dress was a gauzy, white Gunne Sax for Jessica McClintock that covered me from chin to ankle; it had three layers of crinoline and 10,000 buttons up the back. I was hermetically sealed inside my dress. All I knew was that I felt like Madonna in that dress. Seriously, from the neck down, I totally looked like Madonna.
Shut up, I did.
Sadly, we must address things from the neck up. Just a few months prior, I had butchered my long mane and had not yet figured out quite what to do with what was – tragically – a long brush-cut. Or a lady-mullet. The in-between stage lasted for years. In an effort to try to make people not notice my heinous hair, I stuck an over-sized silver safety-pin through the extra hole in my left ear lobe. Because I was that stupid cool.
For Senior Ball, I was slightly better prepared. First, let us establish that JMo looked awesome in his tux. Done. Now, about my dress. As it turned out, my big poofy dress from the year before was really uncomfortable. The crinkly crinolines had filled the entire backseat; it had been hard to walk, and did I mention that I was decidedly not hot? Senior year, I decided to tone down my attire and wear a really simple yellow dress. Alas, there was no teenaged version of “Say Yes To The Dress” because somehow I ended up looking like I had been dipped first in a vat of French’s mustard and then into a second vat of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Seriously, I had no business wearing pastel yellow. I know you can’t tell from the pictures, but I looked jaundiced. Luckily, most people were blinded by my like totally radical Sun-In highlights and my tan, both of which I had been cultivating after school for weeks while simultaneously ignoring my upcoming Trigonometry final. (That proved to be a big mistake.)
I did not do a lot of primping for either prom.
I mean, I showered. I was clean.
Not too long ago, I went on Twitter to see what people were saying about prom. Here is a sampling:
People were freaking out. About shoes, about fingernails, about limos, about dress fittings. Dress fittings?
Whaaaaat? I bought a dress and I put it on. As you can see, it fit.
(Okay, so there was a little extra room up top. What’s your point?)
Unlike the tweeps, I did not worry about prom for days in advance.
Time spent preparing my hair for Junior Prom: zero minutes.
For Senior Ball, I actually had hair, so I did use a little mousse which, thankfully, had been invented earlier that year.
I do remember some mental anguish at both dances. Even though I wasn’t dating either guy, I still wanted the romance of the evening. I still wanted my dates to ask me to slow dance.
I mean I was scared, but I still wanted to be asked.
Ask me. No don’t ask me.
Please ask me. Wait, I don’t know what I’m doing.
One year, I remember the band playing Foreigner and mouthing the words: “I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me.”
Because, really, I had no idea.
But I so wanted to know.
Somewhere between 1986 and 2011, dress designers realized that high school girls did not want to look like Victorian dolls in ginormous hoop skirts nor did they want to look like mothers-of-the-bride. Thus, the prom dress industry was born. That night at Outback Steakhouse, the girls looked so beautiful; their dresses complemented their body shapes and each dress represented a stripe of the rainbow. Each young woman looked like a contestant from America’s Next Top Model. Each had a signature walk. Each looked so confident.
For a minute, I felt envy. I mean, I was decidedly un-hot at junior prom and kind of potato-sacky at senior ball. But then I realized, to the outside world, I probably looked confident, too. Even with the bad hair. I found myself wondering about the girls at Outback – and all the girls who go to formal dances these days. They are so well-put together, so styled, so prepped. Outwardly, they appeared so mature. I wondered if they would be able to look back at themselves in 30 years with a sense of humor and recognize that they were also at a tipping point. Or had they already passed it?
I imagine some things will never change about formal dances: the grown up feeling of getting dressed up and “going out on the town” without one’s parents; the freaky-deaky feeling a girl gets in her stomach as she sees her prom date pull into the driveway; those awkward posed moments where parents hover, taking zillions of photographs from every possible angle; the worry that a zit could erupt at any moment (and often did).
I think of prom as that awkward place, a threshold between adolescence and adulthood where no one really knows what to do, so we just hold onto each other in our fancy clothes and spin around in circles for a little while.
And so we did.
And it was good.
You know, up until I learned I had failed the Trig final.
Because that sucked.
What did you wear to prom? Did you think you were hot? Were you? Really?
Back on May 13th, I celebrated my one year blogoversary. I had it in my head to surprise the person who posted a comment closest to my original launch time with a gift card for $20 to his or her favorite bookstore. I also decided that this “gift” would come with strings attached, as I planned to ask the recipient of the reward to write a little somethin’-somethin’ about the book he or she purchased. (Seriously, how manipulative is that?) As you can imagine, depending on your perspective, this “gift” could have been considered a heinous curse. Thankfully, the fabulous Julie C. Gardner responded to my May 13, 2011 blog at 5:21 PM, and became the winner of my extra-secret super-stealth-mode-blogoversary-contest. (*Cue the paper streamers and the cheesy horn.*)
But Julie was so gracious! She was not only excited to receive my offer, she took control of it. She told me not to fuss with purchasing a book or even a gift card; she would buy the books herself. She simply asked me for a few recommendations of titles – and I shot her a check in the mail. FYI: Julie Gardner is the easiest person in the world to shop for. Ever. She is also an amazing writer. When you visit her blog, By Any Other Name, you will see what I mean. Julie gets people to confess things. She knows stuff about me that some of my friends don’t know. How does she do that?
So, thank you, Julie, for giving me the best blogoversary gift: a piece of writing, inspired by a few books that I really loved, a reminder of the love we mothers have for our sons, and a mutual appreciation for truth-telling in writing. And now, here’s Julie. Call her “Awesome.”
• • •
So I’ve been reading. A lot. And not simply because I’m an English teacher-slash-writer; or because Renée bought me a few books* to celebrate her blogoversary. (Hooray!) No, to me reading is legal procrastination. It implies I’m serious about my work; researchy, even. (I know “researchy” isn’t a word, but neither is “complainy,” and I use that one frequently. I’m an English teacher. I take liberties. With frequentiousness. Or whatever.)
Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Reading. A lot. More specifically, three books with a common theme:
Mother + Son = Complicated Relationship.
(That’s the only math in this post. You’re welcome.)
And now, cue the gist, with no Spoiler Alerts necessary:
First, in Emma Donoghue’s Room, five-year-old Jack and Ma are prisoners in the storage shed of their captor, a kidnapper who “fathered” the little boy. Young Jack has spent the entirety of his life inside Room believing nothing real exists Outside; until his fifth birthday when Ma decides he must attempt an escape, thereby risking a separation that’s unimaginably terrifying.
Next, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin explores the aftermath of a Columbine-esque massacre. The story unfolds entirely in letters written by Eva (the mother of the teenaged killer) to her estranged husband, Franklin. Having nothing left to lose, Eva admits to feeling ambivalent about motherhood, horrified by Kevin’s darkness, and ultimately resigned to surviving the downfall of the family she feels unsuited to embrace.
Finally, Lisa Grunwald’s The Irresistible Henry House follows the life of an orphaned baby named Henry who is “mothered” by a series of college coeds in the (historically accurate) Practice House of a well-intentioned university’s home economics department. Abandoned by his biological mother, Henry is adopted by Martha, the childless head of the program who treats Henry as her sole reason for being. This string of disproportionate attachments hinders Henry’s ability to connect and trust as he becomes a man.
Got it? Good.
Because I spent three weeks engrossed by these mothers and sons; three weeks witnessing their disasters; three weeks during which I’d pause and think, “Crap, I’m glad this isn’t my life!”
(Except in fancier words because I am, after all, an English teacher and therefore fancy.)
Like this: Woe to these women confronting fear and loneliness and death! I can’t imagine such depths of despair!
And also this: Hope leaks from them until they lose the will to fight the loss. What have they to do with me?
Indeed, it’s easy to compartmentalize these mothers as Fiction-Only. Such tragedy wouldn’t happen in real life. Except it did. And it does.
The unlikelihood is irrelevant; because the best novels carry us to the unexpected, the unfathomable , the extreme; while holding up a mirror and daring us to look.
Despite my comfortable “separateness” from Martha and Ma and Eva, I couldn’t help noticing similarities between these wrecked women and me. (And not merely of the “I have a son, too” variety; although I do have a son who will be fourteen next week.)
…These mothers have good intentions. Hey. I have good intentions!
…They’re redefined by the very existence of their sons. Most definitely.
…They commit themselves to their tasks; make sacrifices they question but endure; struggle with their own incidents of selfishness. All right. This is true for me, as well.
…They are, at times, disappointed by their sons. Yes. Sadly, yes.
…They have needs and desires; battle insecurity and pride; display strengths and weaknesses exacerbated by their sons. And, oh yeah, I do too.
…They learn that death is not, in fact, the worst dénouement imaginable. Because it isn’t. If you think hard, it’s not.
These three books chafed me with their honesty. Martha, Ma and Eva say what most mothers never dare to in words that made me nod and blush and fold the pages for revisiting.
Mothers do not often admit to having resentment or favorites or paralyzing regret. We foolishly expect to control our human frailties once we become parents. But then we don’t. Abandon our frailties, I mean.
In fact, our flaws announce themselves in stark relief against the backdrop of perfection we imagine.
These authors, however, tear down the backdrop and expose what parenthood – in its most distilled moments – can teach us:
That hope and love can be more difficult than loss.
But oh. We cannot ever give it up.
The hope, I mean.
And then, of course, the love.
What did you think you knew about parenting but have found yourself questioning? How has the truth of parenting been different from what you expected?
• • •
*NOTE: There is no way that Julie could have purchased all three of these books from my paltry $20. So thank you to Julie for subsidizing some of my blogoversary present. Seriously.
June is a month to reminisce. I decided to challenge myself to think about the very first memory I could recall from kindergarten through 12th grade. And while I have changed the names (actually, I substituted them with the names of some of my most favorite bloggers), the facts are true. So true that some people may be able to identify themselves, or others. It is not my intention to have people name names. However, I would love it if you would think about your own K-12 experiences and share one moment that pops into your head.
• • •
In Nursery School, Julie, Ellie, Amy and I liked to play on the whirlybird, a contraption that consisted of two crossed bars with four attached seats as well as foot pedals for each rider to pump. Once everyone was in sync, riders could spin in circles. Once, Julie decided that she and the other girls were “three witches” and wouldn’t stop spinning, even when I cried. At some point, I slipped off my seat and landed on my back under the whizzing blades. I remember the breezy whir of their skirts as they spun over my head.
Jeff was in my class from kindergarten grade on up, and he once spilled an entire bottle of blue acrylic paint on my dress during art class. That was how I knew Jeff loved me.
In first grade, Paul wore a leather, fleece lined aviator hat to school. He often had black eyes. It never occurred to me to ask him how he got them.
Leanne was my friend in second grade. She lived over a beauty parlor and her bedroom smelled like burning hair.
In third grade, Knox was one of two only black students in my class. He could turn his eyelids inside out, which was creepy but cool. He called me on Saturday mornings and we sang disco songs together.
Chase sat behind me in fourth grade. On the first day of school, I said I had a pair of blue flip-flops at home, and he said they were actually called “thongs.” From then on, we disagreed about everything.
Piper was my best friend from fifth until eighth. We walked around the local shopping mall after and created an elaborate game out of touching people who wore fur coats. Points were awarded if the fur coat wearer did not notice the touch. If you were caught, you lost a point. Terri eventually threw me over for the Deadheads.
Eric was class president in sixth grade. He kept my gerbil when we my family went on vacation, and it died. He cried when he brought back the empty cage.
In seventh grade, there was a girl named Tamara who had something wrong with her face, some kind of palsy that made her mouth twist in a scary sort of way. One day she announced that she was “going to get her face fixed” and that the next time we saw her she’d look completely different. We never saw her again.
My best friend in eighth grade got her ears pinned back and taped aluminum foil antennae on top of the huge white bandage on her head. Everyone thought she was very clever. She once kissed me on the lips during an overnight when she thought I was sleeping.
Kim was the popular girl all through high school. She was also mean. In ninth grade, she used henna that made her hair turn a horrible shade of orange, but no one laughed at her. Instead, we all told her how pretty she looked.
Clay got in trouble in English class sophomore year and had to go to the library to write an essay on angels. Later, he went to some Ivy League school and got in trouble for selling fake IDs.
Wendy and I double-dated when we were juniors. She talked “baby talk” to her date all night long. He seemed to dig it. It. Drove. Me. Nuts.
During my senior year, I dated a boy who was more serious about me than I was about him. When I finally broke up with him, I was rather dismissive. He excused himself and disappeared behind the door of the green bathroom of my parents’ house where he cried for a long time. I know this because I went in the den to watch a one-hour television program, and – intermittently – I heard his sobs. When he finally came out, my show had ended. His eyes were red and he looked ruined. Looking back, I didn’t handle that one very well.
Some guy named Tyler wrote in my yearbook: “May your tail fall off and your hair shrivel into snakes. I’ll never forget you.” I seem to have forgotten him.
Can you remember one specific moment from one specific grade and share it?
In 5th grade, Mr. Zych lectured all of his students about how to properly sharpen a pencil. He wasn’t messing around. His speech was not short, and he covered everything from how to properly grip the pencil to the cranking motion – how it should be smooth and continuous, not jerky. He even discussed the perils of over-sharpening, which could lead to premature tip-breakage. Mr. Zych turned pencil sharpening into a science.
Personally, I have had a love-hate relationship with pencils. I first learned how to print my alphabet in pencil and then I learned how to write in cursive in pencil. That was Paradise. Finally, a way to write all the stories stored in my head. Later, I preferred to write with pens – preferably ones filled with purple or green ink. But ever since my son started school, he has been forever in need of pencils; they seem to always be around, and so I returned to the yellow pencils of my youth. I had learned to appreciate the feel of a pencil in my hand again. I even started to like the scratchy-scratchy sound of the graphite as it dragged across the page. After I recently stepped on a pencil, I became suspicious of them again and switched back to pens.
Meanwhile, my son is still on a steady diet of pencils. In middle school, the kids seem to devour them: literally and figuratively. I know my son nibbles on his; I’ve seen the teeth marks. I’ve watched him crunch while he contemplates before committing to writing an answer on paper. But sometimes I wonder if he actually eats them, too. I mean, where do they go? How many pencils does one kid need in a school year?
A few weeks back, Monkey came home in a tizzy.
“I’m out of pencils again,” he announced.
Nonplussed, I told him there were under three weeks of school left and that I was pretty sure he could make-do with his nubs until June 20.
He started at me with contempt.
“Are you serious?” he questioned. “I have exams! I need pencils! Ticonderogas. Now!”
He was not messing around.
The next day while in the grocery store – to my horror – I found plenty of office supplies, but they were only generic pencils. And even I know that those erasers don’t do the job. You need another eraser to get rid of the smears those lame pencils leave behind.
So I made an extra trek, this time to Staples – home of the Ticonderoga pencil – and invested in the Bulk pack. (Because that was all they had.) Let’s be clear. Ticonderoga pencils are like platinum. They cost a fortune. The only way a pencil could be more fabulous would be if you printed your name on pencils. A Ticonderoga is the Hum-V in the wonderful world of pencils. Teachers definitely prefer them. Definitely.
I rationalized that I could spend $15.77 + nearly 9% tax on pencils because they are non-perishable, so it is not like they will ever rot or mold. And I figured whatever is left at the end of the school year, Monkey can use in 7th grade, thus saving me some back-to-school shopping hassle.
A few days later, a good friend of mine called me and reported that her son – also a 6th grader – had run out of pencils. While requesting to buy more, she said my name was invoked. Apparently her son said:
“Can you just be like Mrs. J. and get the Giant Pack of 72 Ticonderoga pencils?”
Apparently Monkey had been bragging about his new stash.
I laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of it. Bragging about pencils?
And then I thought about how I had come full circle. Just one week before, I was cursing pencils as my husband dug around my heel with a needle in an attempt to get the lead out. (I know, I know. Pencils are made of graphite. I was going for the funny.) But now I found myself saying a silent prayer on behalf of all pencil-loving children everywhere. Uncharacteristically, I clasped my hands together and thought to myself:
Lord, may this be the worst thing my child ever desires. May this be his worst addiction. May he never see cocaine. May he never use LSD or heroin. May he avoid cigarettes and alcohol. May he avoid the ‘shrooms, the X, the meth. May he never huff. May he find the strength to avoid the Oxycontin and Adderall.
May he always be addicted to Ticonderoga pencils.
Because, honestly, I’ll happily help Monkey score his Ticonderoga pencils forever. I’ll even help him sharpen them. Mr. Zych schooled me on that a long time ago, and I feel confident I can help my son with his #2 pencil fix without any need for an Intervention.
A few hours after my pictures went live, Monsieur Flirt contacted me.
Actually, that is not exactly true.
Earlier that morning, I put out a call on Facebook asking friends to help me track him down.
It didn’t take long.
He responded to my blog – at first a little defensively – and we ended up privately emailing back and forth all day.
Short little emails.
He’s still funny.
And he told me I’m funny.
Somehow he forgot to mention that I am hot.
I don’t know how that happened.
Anyway, during our correspondence, Monsieur Flirt requested that I post an updated picture of him today. I guess even PMo got a little trapped behind the burden of those Senior Superlatives. Like me, he has grown up. He’s a man. A responsible and doting father with a job: a mortgage, bills. He is the same but different.
And he would like to show the world how he has morphed.
So you saw him in 1985; here he is in a photo taken in 2010.
Twenty-five years later.
At the end of our day of emails, PMo tapped out a quick last note:
Always fun bonding with you…
And I thought.
PMo and I will always have that high school bond, a shared history where he was the studly-stud in the leather bomber jacket and I was the boobless babe in the short, red cheerleader skirt.
Thanks for being such a good sport, PMo.
If Photo Dude were taking our picture today, I’m sure he’d get a better shot. We would unlikely turn our backs to each other, and we would definitely smile.
In fact, I’ll make sure to get that picture at our 30th reunion in 2015.
Anyone else have any “Morning After” School Photo Day stories? Or am I just the lucky one?
A few weeks back Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom), Clay Morgan (EduClaytion) and Keenie Beanie came up with a brilliant horrifying idea. To go digging back through old school yearbooks and encourage other bloggers to post pictures of ourselves on our pages, along with a little write-up. They would call it:
I wanted to participate in Leanne’s, Clay’s and Keanie Beanie’s brain fart child, but I was saddened to realized I had actually scribbled all over my face in nearly every picture. Think I’m kidding? I’m not. This is my Senior picture.
I was really into the Grateful Dead at the time. Please note my fancy spelling of the Dead, my little rose at the top of my picture, and my penned in peace-sign earrings.
I did find one picture in that same yearbook that stood out to me.
It was the picture taken for Senior Superlatives, a tradition at my high school. Members of the Senior class voted for their choice of male and female representatives in 12 different categories like Best Looking, Best Dressed, Most Friendly, Most Artistic, Most Athletic, Most Musical… you get the idea. (I wonder if they still do that.)
Scroll down to see what I got.
Monsieur Flirt and I were on-again, off-again friends during high school. During this picture, I think we were off. Yeah, definitely off. The week prior he had intentionally backed into my tan Plymouth Volaré as we waited at a red light. Honestly, he just lightly tapped the front bumper of my car with his rear bumper. Problem was my mother was also in the front seat of the car, and she did not think the whole “bumper cars” thing was very funny. She was pretty pissed.
She also has no recall of this incident at all.
Anyway, the day for photos came and Monsieur Flirt and I weren’t really friendly. I think he might have punched me that week. Or maybe he was mean to one of my friends. I don’t know. All I know is that the student photographer kept saying, “Get into a more flirtatious pose!” And neither one of us could muster it. I mean, we just couldn’t. Could there be stronger body language that says: I do not want to be in a picture with this person? But our relentless, young photographer was on assignment and kept making suggestions like, “Why don’t you dip her?” and “Why don’t you pretend to kiss?” Horrifying.
Finally, Monsieur Flirt and I decided to go with the back-to-back thing. Actually, I don’t think it was really a decision. As you can see from Monsieur Flirt’s face, if Photo Dude wanted a picture, that was what he was going to get.
When the yearbook came out days before graduation, I stared at that photograph for a long time. I thought about the words: Class Flirt. I did not think of myself as a person who “made advances.” I did not consider myself a vamp or a vixen or a seductress. But it made me realize that a lot of other people saw me that way. I mean, they voted for me. The idea made me squirmy.
I didn’t like it very much.
The idea stayed with me as I headed off to college. So did I completely reinvent myself? No. I am still a little coquette. I still bat my eyelashes and wear high-heeled shoes. I still chat it up with the boys. But I’m not interested in giving anyone a “come hither” look nor am I interested in stringing anyone along. That is not a sport in which I like to dabble.
These days, I’ve got Hubby. And Monkey is my photographer. He calls the shots. He holds the camera and tells me to be myself. And so I am. In pictures and in life. I still enjoy a fabulous double entendre, which is probably why I have a thing for The Bard. But there is so much more to me. There always was.
If you want to participate in School Picture Day, it’s not too late! Read the instructions here. Then post a picture, write a little somethin’-somethin’ (or just leave a caption) and go check out the school photos of some other bloggers like Clay Morgan and IronicMom and KeenieBeanie. If you posted a photo on your blog, please include a link in the comment section. I promise to visit. Even if you don’t do it today. I figure you have the rest of the week. For the purposes of my blog, it is School Picture Week! 😉
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