I’m sitting, today, in a coffee shop on the edge of a university campus.
It’s a beautiful campus; the third we’ve been to. Trees stand straight and firm—on attention as they line the drive. I dropped James and the boys off behind the football stadium. They’re being wooed by a lot of schools these days. James’ incredible speed and prowress on the football field has secured him a place and promises him a bright future in sports. His dedication to his studies promises and secures him a place in academia.
These truly are the best days of his life, and, some future James will look back on these times as the good old days.
I’m delighted to have part of them. To have gotten up at 4:30am so I could drive the menfolk today. To hear their tales and secrets. To laugh at their stories and to just absorb this time.
It’s been an emotional week. This weekend, many of the guys (and girls) he’s grown up with, some since first grade, will head in varying directions. Some of his friends are heading off to play football for a variety of universities, which means they leave this weekend for training camp. I was somewhat weepy Sunday afternoon, watching the semi-finals of James’ summer football league. because it was the last time some of those boys will suit up together.
Then, Wednesday, I had to hide behind my sunglasses as I watched guys returning their rugby jerseys for the last time. “I won’t be there for finals next week,” one said, “I leave Friday”. The strange quack-hiccup-wail that came from the sidelines may, perhaps, been mine. I stood with another mother, a mom I’ve stood with for four years of football and rugby and hockey and realized I won’t see her again, either.
“It will be so strange, not seeing the coaches and even the school again,” she said. And then we put our sunglasses back on, bit our lips and changed the subject.
It was there, on the sidelines, that I realized that for the first time, ever, I have an official countdown about to start.
Technically, I guess, it begins today.
If things progress the way they have been—and I see no reason they won’t—this time next year, 365 days from now, I’ll be dropping James off at his new home. The final countdown has begun.
According to my calculations, when he leaves for university, he’ll have spent 7004 days on this earth. That’s 19 years, 2 months, 3 days. Of those days, I’d wager less than 25 were spent without me seeing him.
And the countdown has begun. To top it off, the radio station in this café is playing sad music. So please wait here while I get over myself.
It’s about here that my bro, Big Eddie, will start to call me “helicopter Mom” and otherwise ridicule me. (Shut it, Eddie!)
I am so excited for and proud of James. The world is filled with newness for him. There are all kind of things out there with his name on them. I hope, and trust that he will embrace every last one of them, fully, and that he will live life from the inside out. He always has.
He will be a good man. He is a good man.
Many years ago, he started the first grade. I worried about everything I’d put in his backpack. I made sure he had pencils and crayons and a stapler (because of course a first-grader’s primary job it paper stapling). I packed giant lunches and a note that told him how proud I was.
He’s starting school in a few weeks. It’s an easy year for him, as he’s doing the Victory Lap of pretty much nothing but football and training.
I can’t remember the last time I looked in his backpack (it smells of socks and axe spray).
There’s no reason for me to head out to the store and fill up a pack with things for him—he’s got everything he needs, and what he doesn’t have, he will ask for. He’s equipped. I’ve done my job. It’s his turn now.
This next year of life won’t be about me doing anything, really. In fact, a lot of it will be me watching as he does things. Offering a final word or piece of advice, mostly only when asked or invited. It’s his practice year.
And the man’s always trained hard, with excellent results.
This morning, as we drove along the hiway, I shared a few stories of adventures I had when I was 18. They weren’t teaching stories—you know, those moments when you share stories that, were you to share them with friends, you’d laugh over, but when you tell your kids, you add some kind of lesson. And that’s why strangers are dangerous... or and, ummmm…. everyone ended up pregnant and got STDs and on welfare and also, arrested and their lives were awful forever.
I just told the stories. They were funny. They had no lesson. They were just life. In one case, he said “You’re lucky you didn’t end up dead, weirdo”. I didn’t even have to spell out death and stranger-danger. He already knows.
When I told another, he turned to his friends in the back seat—”Now you see where I get my mischief from,” he said. I laughed, and smiled and felt kind of proud.
And I guess that’s the thing. This countdown has started. It’s a strange kind of count down because there’s nothing more I can do. He’s a man. He knows and has internalized his own value system. His moral code is set and is one of integrity. His compass is set and his path is straight. Even if everything changed, he would be okay.
This next year, these 365 days are days I’m excited about. (I’ve dried my eyes and have become less worrisome to café staff.)
They are days of knowing this man I’ve raised. Days of being taught about life from the view of my son. It’ll be about knowing him and being given the honour of admiring who he’s become. There will be many more days along the sidelines, taking pictures and cheering.
Some days (oh, crap, I’m teary-eyed again), I will find myself breathing in the smell of ten pair of football cleats stinking up the hallway and, instead of feeling slightly ill… or, along with feeling slightly ill, I’ll start to weep, realizing that eventually the only shoes there will be mine. There will be those moments. And they will be hard.
There will be other days though. Days when he will need me and he will ask for help. Days where he will have forms to fill in or things to pay for. With decisions with regard to which school to head to, or which courses to take. And on those days, I’ll have things I can add to his life’s backpack.
The rest of the days, I plan to breathe in and savour the feeling of.
So today, I dropped him off and I’m sitting here in this café, thinking a year ahead.
Today, I’ve got hours and hours to wander a city. To find abandoned places. To call up friends near by.
See, I have days ahead, too, beyond the countdown. Just as Day 366 will mean a new beginning for James, it will also be a new beginning for me.
I’ve got plans to travel. I’ve got people I want to meet. Countries and states to explore. Things to discover. People to meet. Theatre productions and novels to write. Mysterious, abandoned places to explore.
When I weep for James’ leaving. I never weep in a “what about me” way.
I weep because I’ve been so honoured, so amazed and filled with wonder at the life we’ve built together.
I weep because the tenderness of a mother’s heart in letting go of a life she’s carried, will forever carry, isn’t easy.
But my goodness, it’s sweet.
So today, when we got to the university, he said “Okay, love you so much and appreciate you more than you know. Now drop us over there and give me money”.
Countdown schmountdown—Pretty much a glimpse of the future right there.
© 2013 Juliet deWal