Thursday, March 10, 2016

Act As If This Is Your Last Chance

My friend Julie and I had a pretty funny conversation this afternoon, or it seemed funny to us. Through crackling cell phones we had a series of "old people" exchanges as follows,

"I'm hot," I yelled.
"What?" she yelled back.
"I'm hot," I yelled.
"What?" she yelled back.

This went on for at least a minute. A glimpse of things to come. 

At the same time, Will, my son was trying to tell me something about his scholarship money from Loyola in New Orleans. Some extra financial aid had appeared out of nowhere. A gift from the heavens. Great. Fantastic. At last, we can relax.

Then I opened the mail. You, Will,  have 8 absences, of which you are only allowed 12 in English for the entire year.  Or you lose credit and I don't know, maybe lose your biggest scholarship opportunity at Loyola. That's $15,000. 

I panicked. I got mad. It's like all the stages in Death and Dying by Kubler-Ross. Really panicking because it is frightening trying to get a kid into college these days and then figure out how to pay for it. 

I'm trying to be Irish Zen like my friend Lou Lou Mulderrig or my other friend Mike Casey. Just breathe, take it easy and know everything will be okay.  But that's not really how I tend to think. I tend to think the worst, predict the worst, fret about the worst case scenario that I know lies just around the bend. 

Until the worst case scenario happens, and then my thinking switches into another level of panic something like, "What if this is it?" I've experienced these moments under positive circumstances, for example when you see a landscape like parts of Texas and Louisiana, or pretty much anywhere on the Pacific Coast Highway. It's overwhelming, the feeling of smallness and finite and wow. This is really it.

And sometimes it happens in an emergency room, when I see my son attached to tubes and oxygen meters. Or when the vet finds Daisy, our beloved Doodle, has swollen lymph nodes. Or when, or when. It happens all the time. 

Bargaining kicks in. Dear god, I will do this thing, if you'll do this one for me. And the one thing becomes another, and another, until I would sell my soul to have one more chance. As I sit here thinking about how to tell Will that the absences in English could sink his ship, I try to also think of what I would say if I had one last chance. 

"Dear Will," I hope I would say. "It has been my great honor and pleasure to be your mom. You have a kind heart, a wonderful curiosity, a strong body and voice, a magnetism that could work in your favor if used wisely, an oblivious in the clouds nature that I think has to do with the music in your head, crazy confidence, less than exceptional work ethic and organizational habits. You would give a friend your last dollar and way too much of your time, so choose them wisely."

You asked me today how Dad and I raised an awesome kid like you -- not your words but I won't repeat them because you're a teenager and sometimes you say stupid stuff.

I think your dad and I made conscious decisions about choosing each other and not making the not-so-great relationship decisions we'd made in the past. We avoided certain patterns that were not healthy for either of us. We also discussed up front very important issues like how to discipline, how to talk to you, what to do about media (or too much of it), getting outside to build strength, what was important for your development. Most importantly, and THIS IS SO IMPORTANT, we wanted to keep an honest, open relationship with you. So we made a decision early on that if you told us the truth, we wouldn't punish you.

From what I've seen with your friends, this has sometimes been perceived as a positive and often times a negative. Some parents don't want to know what's happening. We do.

Full circle back to my typical worst case scenario thinking. You can't miss any more classes Will or you'll risk your scholarship, or worse, graduation. I'm seeing Poseidon Adventure scenes now in my head - the old one with Shelly Winters

But what's really important is to put this in context. I need to spend more time thinking like it's my last chance. When I think that something is finite, when we're in the ER with you because you've been bitten by a dog, fallen down a water slide, are overcome by asthma, then I start to think clearly about what is important. 

Dear Will. It has been my great honor and pleasure to be your mom. 

(NB This is one of my favorite videos of you singing at Greenfield Hills Congregational)

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