Time Waits for No One

Chase on the Beach in HawaiiOur son completed his second year of high school. High school…..the two words together almost choke me. Two words put together to create a whole new meaning. It leaves my head spinning as to how we arrived at this juncture at what seems to be warp speed.  Only a moment ago, they were placing a squirming bundle into my arms.  Just yesterday, it seems, he assumed the well recognized “knee-to-chin” squat position on a beach in Hawaii to closely examine some shells where he comfortably remained for what seemed an hour.

Nothing defines rapidity of passing time than handing the keys of your car to your young teenager when only a brief moment ago you were

Don’t misunderstand. We are very proud of him. There are times he displays such unbridled determination that he accomplishes amazing feats, startling himself in the process. During those times, he walks on air, five feet above the ground, unable to suppress his excitement. I live for those moments because every poignant triumph only reinforces his self confidence in a way no mere compliment can. But there is a bittersweet side as well, one parents wouldn’t change for the world yet the feeling looms ever closer with each passing year.

We used to look at college or high school years with a gentle nod of acknowledgement, yet we remained unruffled. Heck, those years were decades away. We had plenty of time for Little League Baseball, swimming, Christmas vacations with the relatives, choir practice, band, so on and so on. Until, all of a sudden, the realization that our sons and daughters are about to embark on their own path. The best analogy that comes to my mind is the bird’s nest we used to have outside our window when we lived in California. You would see the parents flitting back and forth, bringing food to cavernous beaks, in an endless tag team to keep their babies fed and protected.  As time passed, we would see the now fully feathered babies on the edge of the nest, stretching our their wings as if testing the currents, hesitant, curious, not quite ready. Looking up one day, they were gone, the nest unattended, perhaps a few remnant baby feathers stuck in the woven sides. Right now, our son is testing his wings, not quite ready to leave the nest, but ready to contemplate the possibilities before him.

It seems only a moment ago, I was on the very same edge. Full of doubt and trepidation, my father gave me a gentle shove. I’d been offered an outstanding job but it meant relocation from Illinois to New York. At the time, my father was recovering from a heart attack in the ICU and I felt my first priority was to remain close and help my mother. I secretly dreaded the thought of receiving a call in the middle of the night so I entered the hospital room to inform my father of my decision. I remember the nagging beeping sound of the heart monitor and the various catheters snaking out from the sheets. When I told him, he pulled himself up, looked me straight in the eye and quietly stated, in no uncertain terms, “You can’t live your life through me. It’s time for you to spread your wings. Now, I want you to get on that plane and take that job.”  You didn’t argue with my father when he used “The Tone”. However, walking down the ramp to the plane was the hardest journey I’d taken up to that point but it also prepared me for the moment coming.

We will never be ready to see the backsides of our children and, unfortunately the time comes along too fast. Way too fast. But when the time comes, I hope I have a fraction of the courage my father had when he spoke those words to me so long ago. So, although in my heart, I will be silently saying, “stay a little longer”, his father and I will urge him to follow his dreams, to not let anyone discourage him, to surround himself with truly positive friends and allies and capture his adventures. In our hearts, we will hold those precious memories we have accumulated and savor the remaining school years we have left. And tonight, when he is sound asleep, I will sneak to his bedside, give him a gentle hug, and thank God he was placed in our care over fifteen years ago.

Father and Son at Sunset_0038

The Angst of Immaturity

My husband and I are at the stage where we watch our son in awe…..most of the time. Oh there’s the ups and downs of immaturity and the  aggravaSpencer,Alex,Chasetion thereof but yesterday was different.

Our son took to tennis like a duck takes to water about four years ago. Since then, he and his friends have taken lesson after lesson, clinic after clinic. When the summer temperatures rose to uncomfortable levels in the high eighties, most of the participants scrambled to the swimming pool. This group, however,  headed back out to the courts for another couple of hours of grinding a little yellow ball. I admire tenacity and determination. To have a goal and set out to at least try to achieve it, is a worthy aspiration. On the practical and pragmatic side, however, there is a harsh reality one must eventually address whether the goal is in athletics or academics. It is easy for a young dreamer to announce the desire to play in Wimbledon or perform with the New York City Ballet Company or simply compete in an Olympic event. It is quite another to fully comprehend the magnitude of the desire and knowing the cost, continue with the commitment no matter what results will yield. Yesterday, my son received a mere taste of what the future can hold.

High school athletics is rigorous, competitive and an invaluable experience. One year a particular high school will have attained notoriety in a specific sport only to return the next year barely hanging on to the bottom rung havtennis racquets.on.neting lost the bulk of the team to graduation. I can only liken the rise and fall of any high school’s athletic division to the undulating tides of the ocean – sometimes high, sometimes low. My son chose a high school closer to our home and in doing so, wound up on one of those high school tennis teams climbing up from the bottom rung. There were probably 5 students on the team and only 2 had participated in any formal training, one being our son. For those unfamiliar with tennis  lingo, which I wasn’t, Court 1 is considered the best court, the dreaded arena often referred to as the court of annihilation one wants to avoid unless properly prepared. It would be like having a Freshman suited up to play quarterback facing a defensive line made up completely of experienced seniors. Kind of takes the stuffing out of you.

It didn’t take long for the lineup to be formulated. A great, lanky, and talented sophomore played Court 1 and my son, my tall, wonderfully goofy, freshman son moved to Court 2. In one fell swoop, he was thrown into the deep end.  The remaining team members fell into place thereafter. Now, this was just our high school. There were approximately six other high schools to compete against. A few were in the same category as ours; limited number of players with equally limited experience. Others were highly regarded with a deep roster, exceptional experience, mostly comprised of seniors and carefully cultivated to dominate the competition. They did so quite well. However, our little team became the thorn in their sides, at first surprising, then annoying. While my son’s high school team didn’t do well overall in the standings, both Court 1 and Court 2 weren’t easily overcome.

The season ended yesterday with District competitions, another level involving another set of high schools,  some familiar, some completely unknown. Without being aware of the fact, my son was pushing his commitment into an unknown arena. He was facing competitors of unknown ability in front of friends, parents and other attendees for the opportunity to achieve the same goal as every other high school tennis participant: the chance to play in the finals, a lofty goal for an incoming freshman.

His first match was long and deliberate, controlled and executed. The opponent was no slouch but eventually my son prevailed. Because of a pass, he went straight into the semi finals against a player, a senior, he’d come close to beating twice. My son was chomping at the bit, eagerly ready to play, certain he could win and move to the finals.  Previously, their matches had been neck and neck so the opposing team player was rather surprised when my son won the first set handily. I’m sorry to report that’s when things began to go south. This is where the difference in age, the difference in competitive experience and the ability to pull it all together or simply keep it mentally together, is affected by immaturity. When a few of my son’s shots went awry, his frustration grew. Instead of taking a few moments to gather his wits and take a few breaths, he launched immediately into the next point with the same results. It didn’t take long for his opponent to capitalize on my son’s growing self aggravation and win the second set. My heart broke for my son. He wanted the win so much he could taste it but the possibility was rapidly slipping away.  It was a journey to a lesson he had to take on his own. A simple hug or thumbs up wasn’t going to make everything better. As parents, we aren’t allowed to coach our children during match play. The only thing I could manage to tell him, handing him a bottle of water was, “Getting angry isn’t going to help your game.” not really believing the statement would help.

As he went back out on to the court, however, a new young man emerged. I can’t readily confess he was no longer frustrated but for the first time, he took charge and began playing with his brain again. For the next ten minutes, emotion did not control his game and I saw a glimpse of the young man he is trying to become. When the tie breaker ended, he was the first man to the net to congratulate the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud. I’m not sure angst is the proper word to describe what teens go through but I’m fairly certain it’s the perfect word to describe what parents of teens go through.

Well done, son. Well done.

“Work in Progress”

First day of high school    The opinions of our children can cause exasperation, wonder, amusement or thoughtful reflection particularly when the opinions are unsolicited and erupt from those in their early teenage years. If you are a parent or even a close relative of one, you become aware of this “growth” period immediately. Prior to the onset of the freshman year of high school, mothers, formerly impeccable with not a hair of their natural color out of place, nor a smudge of misplaced mascara, could be seen bouncing from meeting to meeting, juggling all manner of balls in the air and managing this feat without breaking a sweat or a fingernail. Fathers, standing tall, would proudly keep one hand on their the wallet, the plastic sleeves filled with a chronological collage of their little one, ready to let it drop to its full length of 20” should anyone unwittingly ask to see the latest photo of junior.

    Then the moment arrives; the first day of high school. Not only are parents left wondering, “Wow, that went by fast. How did I end up here?” but they encounter a moody, unrecognizable stranger living in what used to be their child’s bedroom. Oh, the old, loveable personality visits once in a while, but frankly, the visitations come and go with shocking irregularity as if stuck in one of those revolving doors found in a five star hotel. The sudden fluctuation leaves one’s head spinning. Just when you think the happiness and gaiety has returned, it’s been replaced with moodiness and condescension while you simply went out to get the mail.

      Parents of such precocious, eye rolling, “they just don’t get it” teens can be easily identified. For women, the battle to maintain their god given hair color becomes fierce as gray streaks sizzle to life with alarming alacrity. Peaceful mornings become a thing of the past as the effort to get the little darling up and ready for school begins at 7:00am and ends with a supreme challenge of beating the tardy bell at 8:50am. What mother hasn’t felt the thrill of victory of accomplishing that very feat considering when they left the house, it was 8:45am, she had already lost one fake eyelash, was wearing two different shoes, the notes for her business presentation are sitting on the kitchen table, the child is putting his pants on in the back seat, wearing two different colored socks and they live 15 miles from the school. Oh, did I mention her silk blouse is inside out?

     For men, the change is more subtle. Formerly, insightful in speech and deliberate in action, they find themselves beginning a sentence only to lose their entire train of thought after three words. The phrase “I’m going to the gym” becomes their escape mantra. It is not uncommon for the men, rattled by the continual emotional flux to unintentionally mistake their wife’s perfume for their cologne. Mother and father, an eyebrow raised, begin to level accusatory glares at their partner. Crow’s feet begin to leave evidence on both parents but, of course, on men the look is distinguished. Gray hair begins to haunt the men as well but almost entirely around the temples. Frankly, the bastards weather this “transitional” stage much better than women. However, unless the husband decides to take up pipe smoking, indicating he is taking the whole “distinguished” look to a brand new level, there’s no need to worry.

     At this stage, a parent may wonder if their precious child will ever come full circle. Will this son/daughter ever rejoin the fold and tame the chaotic emotions threatening to up heave what was once a harmonious family, most of the time? Will these unrecognizable mutant teenagers live long enough to see their twenties? The latter question is melodramatic, of course, but parents have been known to mutter the question under their breath.

     The truth, fortunately for most parents, is yes. As my son progressed through the school years, each phase brought highs and lows. One high was catching the last pass of the last game of the flag football season and running for a touchdown. His school suffered a humiliating defeat: 28-7 but he only remembers the touchdown and the feeling of euphoria as his teammates rallied around him. He endured the unfortunate ordeal of a personality clash with a teacher and dealt with bullying in middle school. During this formative period, we acted as his voice, his champions so to speak as most parents are. After enjoying a successful stint of homeschooling, we silently approached his first few days of high school with trepidation. Wanting to fit in, like most high school newbies, he resorted to a heretofore hidden dry sense humor which served him well. Imagine my surprise when, after only one week, a dizzying number of kids seemed to know him by name and I hadn’t been called to the principal’s office.

  In this first year, he has ridden the freight elevator from his original high grade point average straight down to just above the bargain basement levels. He has suffered the heartbreak of his first real crush and has decided, albeit begrudgingly, his parents may be right about one or two things, after all. Like the metamorphosis of a cocoon to a butterfly, I’m watching my son slowly grasp the value of making better decisions. Every once in a while, the lights are on and there actually is somebody home. The realization is exciting and not just because I’m tired of hearing my own voice. Some of those decisions aren’t going to be easy, some of them are going to hurt and many will go against the wishes of his friends. The fracture we are experiencing as a family is this: these are no longer solely our decisions. He’s testing his wings. Not every choice he has made so far has been wise, but he’s learning. What’s promising is twofold. He’s made a couple of sensible decisions about schoolwork and achieved a measure of academic reward. Secondly, he’s discovered, to his surprise, he rather likes the feeling.

    My one sister has two boys. She once confided to me, surreptitiously, her older son was so moody and disdainful throughout high school, he drove her to distraction. When he began looking for colleges, she offered him a one way ticket to Alaska. They lived in Iowa. Both her sons have come full circle, are amazing men and she is deservedly very proud. We haven’t reached the point of dropping our son off at Alaska Airlines, yet. So far it’s been three steps forward, two steps back. The positive is beginning to outweigh the negative. Besides, I have to confess my husband looks rather dishy with a smattering of gray at his temples and so far, he’s shown no interest in picking up a pipe. As for me, my hairdresser is a genius with color and styles my hair so the bald spots where I pulled my hair out aren’t noticeable. Furthermore, false eyelashes are highly overrated. Let’s be honest. We are all works in progress.