Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shouting Across the Divide.

Daughter’s dance studio has an adjacent parking lot. For several hours a day, this lot is an embarrassment of riches, space-wise. If one wasn’t raised right, one might even park across a few parking places. I am never there during these glorious, spacious hours. I am there when the children’s dance classes actually occur, when you’d no sooner find a parking space with your name on it than a square-cut diamond with your name on it.

For five minutes at the top of every hour there is a frantic movement of women hustling their leotarded girls out of classes and into cars, using their stained Starbucks napkins as semaphore flags to indicate that they will be more than happy to surrender their parking space as soon as they find their sunglasses, adjust their seat belt and pop in a DVD for the kids. Otherwise, we all drive up to the front door, eject a child, and wander off into the neighborhood to trawl for a parking space. Sometimes after fifty futile minutes spent driving around the block we just drive back to the front entrance and pick the kid up. I don’t understand why more mothers aren't diagnosed with vehicular bedsores.

I was in the line to drop Daughter off. I glanced in the mirror. Her hand was sneaking up towards her bun.

“Don’t interfere with your hair, honey.”

The hand slid back down again.

“Now,” I said, sliding deftly into a drop-off spot only four centimeters longer than a chinchilla, “do you have your dance bag?”

“Yes,” she said firmly.

“And everything is in it?”

“Yes.”

“You sure?”

“YES.”

“All right. All right. I’ll meet you inside, unless...“

But she had already flung herself from the car, found a friend and was heading up the steps chatting about something. I opened the passenger window. Her dance bag looked suspiciously flat and her fingers had inserted themselves into her bun and removed at least two hairpins.

“UNLESS,” I trumpeted after her. “I CAN’T FIND A PARKING SPACE. IF I’M NOT OUTSIDE CLASS, COME DOWN AND LOOK FOR ME…”

She was long gone through the door, giving no indication of hearing anything I'd said.

A mere twenty minutes later I was the proud possessor of a parking space. I turned to grab my purse from the back seat and saw her ballet shoes, her tap dance shoes, her ballet skirt, one leg-warmer, her water bottle and snack. This answered the question of why the bag looked so empty but raised the more puzzling question: since nearly everything she needed was here, what was in the bag?

[As it turned out, a single leg warmer, a Nancy Drew mystery, and the dog’s chew toy.]

As I walked up to school, another car pulled up and expelled two children who raced inside. The mother opened the window and hollered, “MAKE SURE YOUR SISTER GETS INTO CLASS. YOU HAVE TO SIGN HER IN. YOU HEAR ME…?” Maybe she heard her mother, maybe she didn’t. The girls raced past me and skipped up the stairs two at a time. I watched another mother drive up, and then another. In each case, there was one last urgent thing the mother needed to tell her charges, shouted over the noise of downtown traffic and the haze of pre-adolescence:

REMEMBER, YOUR FATHER WILL BE HERE IN FORTY-FIVE MINUTES.

TELL YOUR TEACHER YOU NEED NEW REEDS.

POINT YOUR TOES AND TRY NOT TO DO THAT THING WITH YOUR NECK.

LOVE YOU. PLEASE DON’T TAKE OUR YOUR RETAINER.

I don’t know a single mother who, upon the sight of their child’s back, doesn’t suddenly have one more piece of advice, or chore, or warning. I can’t speak for other parents, but I even do it in the house. If Daughter is heading away from me towards her bedroom I automatically carol “…and make your bed!” I fear that I will watch my daughter walk down the aisle as a radiant bride and the sight of her back will force me to challenge her about the state of her bed. She’s just not going to put me into the nice rest-home after that.

As I walked into the school, my phone rang. I saw that it was Veronica. I snapped it open and said without preamble, “...And wasn’t that dreadful.”

“Yeah,” Veronica sighed, “I’ve been depressed all day.”

That morning, we had joined a friend of ours, Emily, for tea. This was at Emily’s request. She needed support. Veronica and I have known Emily and her family for years. Veronica’s son is good friends with Emily’s younger boy. The older boy is a smart, gorgeous lad with charm to burn and real talents. He also inherited the fuzzy end of the lollipop on a few behavior-related issues, which were diagnosed early. Knowing this, and knowing that the hormonal swirl of adolescence wasn’t going to help matters, Emily spent more time and money than I care to think about to give her first-born child all the emotional and intellectual tools he would need. You’re just going to have to take my word for this. Emily did it all, and it seemed to have worked.

When I last saw the boy he was twelve and he seemed no more or less nutty than any other kid his age. His parents knew who he was, he knew who he was, and he knew when and how to ask for help. There was no way I would have predicted sitting with Emily only two years later and hearing about how drastically and ruinously her son had gone off the rails. The hurt he’s ladling out to his family was etched on Emily’s face. She spent a decade trying to give him the tools to thrive, and right now he’s running away from her as fast as he can, giving no indication that he heard anything she's ever said to him.

Every time we let our children walk away from us, we’re practicing for the time they do it for keeps. And every time we let them go out into the world, even for a short time, some part of our brain thinks “No! Not yet! There’s no way she knows enough. I know for certain I haven’t taught him enough. Did I teach her the eyeball-gouging trick if someone tries to kidnap her? Did I get him to tolerate citrus fruit enough so he won’t die of scurvy? Did I impress upon them how unspeakably fragile I feel when I think about them doing something self-destructive? Does she know how I have never loved anyone on earth the way that I love her? Come back. Come back."

But the thoughts flash by in less than a millisecond and all our brain registers is “Remind him that his book report is in the outer pocket of his backpack.”

I talked to Veronica for another minute but had to sign off. I had arrived at the studio and noticed that Daughter was tap-dancing in her bare feet. I tip-toed into class and handed her all of the objects she'd left in the car. I helped her get into her tap shoes. She whispered, “I can do that myself.” And I whispered back, “I know. Humor me.”

As she stood up and walked back to the line I noted she had redone her hair from the regulation bun into something which resembled a hurricane as interpreted by Doppler radar. I toyed with stage-whispering something about it but decided to let her ballet teacher take this one. I watched my daughter walk away from me, but I said nothing.

15 Comments:

Blogger MomVee said...

This is magnificent, thank you.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Lauren said...

Man, you're not supposed to make me all weepy before I finish my first Diet Coke of the day.

My DS is 15 and I still do the talking to the back of his head thing. And you're right, I'll probably do it the day he get's married.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

That was beautiful.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Michaéle said...

My apologies if this was a duplicate response...sometimes I think my computer, like my children, has finally tuned me out!

I thought this was amazingly true and poignant. My first born, my son, who is my inspiration (and thank you because now I have a new blog topic), just started driving. He's 16 going on 35 but still, seeing the light of my life driving down the road in a 2,000 steel machine....alone. Was NOT prepared for the way my emotions ran the gamut and am still getting used to it. Gee, only another year before my daughter is able to drive. Oy vey...I can feel the gray hairs multiplying as I write.

8:39 AM  
Blogger His Singer said...

OK, here I am at work reading blog illicitly, and you made me bawl. Right here in the office. And dang it, I'M THE BOSS!

Beautiful post, Quinn. Just beautiful.

8:55 AM  
OpenID bkimrey1 said...

wow! absolutely lovely- how you paint the pictures that fleetingly enter my head everytime i see their little backs...
poignant, beautiful, lovely, magnificent. i think you have plenty of blurbs now.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

(sigh)

4:40 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

My oldest started college last August. He is only 45 minutes away, comes home frequently for real food and clean clothes, yet every time he pulls out of the driveway, I get that all too familiar tug at my heart and tears in my eyes. I wonder how old he and I will be before that quits happening.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Epiphenita said...

They're 26 and 29 now and the sight of their respective, receding backs still elicits the same response: just one more thing before I let you go. I also occasionally tell them, "I know you can take care of yourself. Humor me." And they do.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Tina said...

De-lurking -- and misty even before my first cuppa.

That tug is distinctly physical, and it happens time and time again. I have four, and at every age they walk away in ways large and small, from the little one who deliberately wears his shirt inside-out and backwards and will not be deterred to the oldest who blithely remarks she should probably get on some kind of birth control. (And will not be deterred.)

I have to constantly remind myself that they are not me and that I don't always have to understand -- just observe, keep them safe, bring them their tap shoes, let them have helicopter hair now and then.

Why does it hurt? And yet, those often end up being the moments of the greatest laughter and grace and growth -- on both ends of the relationship. Thanks so much for this picture of that balance.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Robin Raven said...

Beautiful blog! I'm not sure I will ever have children, but what gorgeous insight into the experience. (-:

I can just read the love in the words!

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sobbing... and i have NO kids.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Savtadotty said...

My youngest is about to turn 40, and for a few momemts while reading this post he was 7 again to me. Thank you, Quinn.

7:23 PM  
Blogger www.antiquemommy.com said...

Your writing, the things you say, it all just so good. Coming here is always time well spent.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous rebecca said...

What a beautiful post. Many thanks, from me, and from all the people I will forward it to.

3:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home