Sheryl and Sons

Sheryl and Sons
I told you they were big.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Best Ever

It's a few minutes before midnight, and I'm waiting to be the first one to wish my son a happy twentieth birthday on his Facebook page.  I don't want to write anything that would embarrass him in front of his 1345 Facebook friends, so after erasing several sentiments, I settle on, "Hope you have a great birthday!"  I can't fathom what is humiliating about that but I'm prepared to find out.

My husband and I drove him to college yesterday, and in all of the tumult of packing, traveling and moving in, I forgot to arrange for a birthday cake.  Not that his birthday has gone unremembered by us--the night before he left we had a farewell birthday dinner at his favorite restaurant with grandparents and friends. Candles were blown out, cake was consumed, and presents were exchanged.  My husband feels that this birthday has been sufficiently celebrated, but I've always made a fuss for my boys on their actual birth date.  As the one who gave birth, it always felt like my job.

Around noon, when I imagine my son is finally awake, I call and sing him the happy birthday song.  I apologize for not doing more, and he tells me not to worry, that he and his roommates will be having a party in his new apartment to celebrate.

The next day I call to hear about the party.  I apologize again but my son is eager to alleviate my guilt.

He says, "Don't sweat it Mom, the party was great!"

"That's terrific, Sweetheart," I say, "I'm so glad."

"Really Mom," he continues, "it was my best birthday party ever!"

I am silent.

"Mom?" he asks, thinking our cell phones have dropped the call, "Are you still there?"

"I'm still here," I reply, in a slightly higher octave.

My son knows that voice, and he is trying to figure out what he has said to bring it on.  He was only trying to reassure me.

"The party was great," he continues, "there must have been at least.  . .

"I heard you.  You said it was 'The Best Birthday Party Ever.'"

Now he is silent.

"Really," I say, a statement more than a question.  "The Best Ever."

I can almost see him rolling his eyes but I can't help myself.

"Mom," he begins.

"No, I'm just curious.  Was it better than the pirate party when you turned six?  Remember how I planted clues all over the neighborhood in the pouring rain for the treasure hunt?  And all the boys wore eye patches with their names on them?  We had a cake from the bakery in the shape of a pirate ship. I couldn't figure out how to cut it."

There is no answer.

"What about the sports party in the park?  I tried to rent the play field but the Park District didn't take reservations, so I parked your brother out there in a lawn chair to save the baseball diamond.  Everyone got their own McDonald's Happy Meal for lunch, and by mistake they gave some of the boys a princess toy.  I baked two cakes, one chocolate with white frosting and the Bulls' logo, and one yellow cake with fudge frosting with the Cubs' logo."

Silence again.

"How about the Chuckie Cheese party?  That redheaded boy from your kindergarten class lost his shoe in the ball pit and Dad had to go in there.  Then a big mouse came over to sing Happy Birthday and worked you boys into a frenzy.  You all started smashing that cheap sheet cake into each other's faces."

"I forgot about that," my son sighs.  "I had frosting in my eyelashes.  That was awesome."

I take a breath.  "Thank you, Sweetie.  I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Mom.  I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.  Those parties were terrific."

I'm ready to forgive.  "So tell me, what was so great about last night?"

"Well," my son says thoughtfully, "there were a lot of cute girls."

I smile.  I know he is smiling too.

"And another thing, Mom--and don't take this the wrong way--but I think your parties would have been better if you'd served alcohol."

I smile.  "I did serve alcohol at those parties," I confess, "just not to you."

My son and I laugh for a minute, then we each say, "I love you" before we hang up.  I shake my head as I often do these days, realizing that he has crept another inch toward adulthood, and the only one stuck in his childhood is me.  It's time for me to let it go and move on.

The party is over.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Kiss

My life is so small it could fit on the head of a pin.  It wasn't always like this.  I was an interesting person who had stimulating jobs and diverse friends.  But now my main occupation is keeping the refrigerator filled.  Feeding my teen boys and all their friends, my life has turned into a giant loop from my house to the Jewel.

Each day I talk to the same Wilmette moms whose lives are similarly small, and we keep repeating the same conversations about where our kids might go to college, and what they are doing this summer.  Like my trips to the grocery store, these conversations are circular, never ending.  Occasionally, a new teacher or a bad grade or a varsity tryout is added to the mix, and we continue to stir and stir.

I am officially in a rut.

Before I was someone's wife or mother, before I had a minivan or a two car garage, I was young.  I dreamed of this life when I was a girl--dreamed of a handsome husband, and clever children, and a house in the suburbs.  This was my wish, and it has come true.  I just never anticipated these dry spells.

In an effort to remember what seemed so attractive about being a homemaker with wall to wall carpeting, I went up to the attic and found a box that hadn't been opened since we'd moved to this house.  It was labeled "Papers and Memories" and it had just what I was looking for.

Inside the box were high school yearbooks, letters from girlfriends, signed programs from shows I danced in, and well recorded memories of my young love life.  There were invitations to fraternity dances, and the carefully preserved corsages, and many letters from boys who had been away at college, or who had liked me from afar, or who were apologizing for some bad behavior.

But the best surprise in the box was a rubber band full of photos of old boyfriends.  Usually they were alone, smiling at me, the photographer.  Sometimes I am in the photo, smiling and mugging for the camera with my long hair and smooth skin.  I gasp as I go through them, remembering the law student from New York, my downstairs neighbor in college, the first boy I met when I moved to Washington. I realize that at some point I put all these pictures in one place and decided to save them.  I must have anticipated my current middle-aged self needing a drink from the fountain of youth.

I find a picture of my college roommate Karen, standing with me and a boy I don't recognize at all.  In the next photo, I am kissing him.  Not just a peck on the cheek, but a full face locking of lips.  I have no idea who he is.

I study it carefully.  This guy was never my boyfriend.  I had a boyfriend the year I lived with Karen, and this is definitely not him.  Is he Karen's boyfriend?  Is she daring me?  Is she taking the picture?  I don't know.

Perhaps I saved this photo as a representation, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to remind me of all the other boys I'd kissed without the benefit of kodachrome.  Or maybe I was crazy for this boy, but after this kiss he never called.  Was I a girl who sometimes kissed boys I hardly knew?  When I'm unloading the dishwasher, or folding the laundry, or perhaps driving to the grocery store, I'll think about it some more, but I don't think I'll ever know for sure.

In the meantime, I've decided not to return the pictures to the attic.  I love them.  They remind me that I was young and beautiful, and I had many adventures before finding one special kisser.  I will continue to load up the refrigerator each day, thinking about the current boys in my life, and wonder where they might go to college or what they will do this summer.  But at night, when my rut is so deep I'm worn out by it, I'll look at the carefree girl kissing the handsome stranger, and I'll smile when I remember that it is me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

False Alarm

Like every second semester high school senior I know, my son has lost all interest in his schoolwork. Frankly, so have I. I only have a few weeks left to make sure he knows all the things I've been trying to teach him for the last eighteen years, and pre-calculus is not on my list.

I told him that if he can't get out of bed in the morning, he's not going to college. I know it sounds extreme, but for the past four years his alarm has gone off and nothing has happened. That's not entirely true--the alarm goes off but he doesn't get up. What happens is that I go into his bedroom, gently rub his back and say, "Sweetheart, it's time to get up." Then he gets up. But I'm not going with him to college, so he's got to learn to use the alarm clock.

Whenever I point this out, he tells me that he can use the alarm if he has to. But given the choice of his mom coming into the room, cooing softly and rubbing his back, or the alarm clock screaming BEEP, BEEP, BEEP at a high decibel level, he picks me.

Clearly, this has to stop. I won't be going into his room anymore. I'm a Second Semester Senior Mother, and I no longer care if he's late for school. Something much more fundamental is in play.

Now I imagine that your are smiling and wondering how I let this go on so long. Perhaps you are starting to see that this is not so much a story about my son.

When he was seven or eight years old, we started reading the nutrition labels on the food we ate. When he wanted Oreos, I checked the serving size and gave him three. When he asked for more, I apologized and showed him the box. "I wish I could, Sport," I said sincerely, "but the box says that three is the limit!"

He would look at me with those huge brown eyes, and his lip would start to quiver, and just like that I would cave in, and the two of us would be dunking our Oreos and spoiling our dinners.

I always wondered what was the harm, and now I know. I was too indulgent with this child. I should have been firmer in hundreds of big and small ways. He should have made his own lunch, done his own laundry and shopped for his own clothes, but there always seemed to be a reason why it was easier for me to do it. Now I lie awake at night and wonder how he will ever manage.

Children get lots of chances, but it changes when you cross over to our side. Soon the universe will be doling out the consequences, and he is learning that the universe is not the pushover that I am. This final semester is my last best shot to get him ready to be on his own.

My son has a job after school, and today he's forgotten to take a snack, so he has sent me a text message asking me to make him one of my special salmon salad sandwiches on challah bread. The message says, "Please Mommy?"

I know what you are thinking. But he's hungry.

So I pack up the deluxe sandwich, a few barbecue potato chips, some carrot sticks, and just three Oreo cookies.

I arrive at school but he's not where we usually meet, so I get out of the car and walk up the street. I see him talking with his friends, and when he sees me he flashes his magnificent smile that always makes me smile too. I hold up the brown lunch bag and he jogs towards me. The other boys, most of whom I've know since grammar school, yell, "Hey Mrs. Solomon!" and I wave to them, and regret that I don't have more sandwiches. My son runs right up to me, and since he is so much bigger than I am now, he lifts me up off the ground when he hugs me, and gives me a loud smacking kiss. He says, "Thanks, Mom. I LOVE you!" and puts me down, and takes his snack and he is gone.

As I walk back to my car, I imagine everything that could have been different. Even though I may have made some mistakes along the way, I think it's going to turn out all right.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Looking Up

My husband comes from a big family. I don't mean that there are lots of relatives, I just mean that they are big. I married the runt who is only 6'4" and swears he'd be taller if his legs weren't bowed. His brothers measure 6'5" and 6'6", and his cousin is a mountainous 6'8". And it's not just the men. It wasn't until my son hit six feet tall that he finally passed his eighty-six year old grandmother.

This was all quite overwhelming to me when I joined the family. My excitement at becoming pregnant was tempered by my sister-in-law who said, "You are pretty small to carry a Solomon baby. You might want to start smoking."

The title of my blog is "Looking Up." It not only refers to my stature in comparison to my teenaged boys, but mostly to my attitude as I see them growing into magnificent young men.