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Lois Williams

© 2005

Hi, Mom…See You Later

Planning is imprinted in my genes. I can’t help myself. If someone tries to be spontaneous around me, I immediately begin making lists. My spur-of-the moment neighbor, Doreen, once went shopping for a dress and came home with a dog. I was stunned. “We saw this cute little puppy at the pet store and couldn’t leave without it.” What was she thinking? We planned our dog purchase for months, choosing the breed, watching videos on training, and getting the supplies needed. You can only imagine how long we planned for our kids – 6 years. In fact, I planned to have perfect children, respectful, kind and obedient. I determined to do it right. Now I enjoy two terrific sons that I’m crazy about, but who determinedly resist perfection despite my coercion. So much for planning. This year my oldest son is leaving for college. I am struck by how similar is the planning for his exit from our family as it was to his entrance.

Having a baby changed my life forever. Although I spent hours reading, asked all of our friends for advice, and planned meticulously, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, physically, mentally and emotionally. College preparation is equally intense. “What’s it like having a college student?” I asked everyone with experience.

“Oh-h-h, let me tell you,” they answered. “It is very difficult to get into a college of your choice today. You’ve got to start early; get ahead of the game.” To a planner, uttering those words is like throwing gas on a California wild fire. I searched the map and plotted our course. We dutifully visited six or seven colleges and applied to four. Kicking and screaming, my son took the ACTs four times to get the best possible score. We slaved over the college entrance essay. All four colleges accepted him without delay. Mission accomplished. 

Before my son was born, I attended baby showers to celebrate his birth. I remember clearly the one held on Ipswich Neck, a beautiful strip of land jutting into the ocean in Massachusetts. Each couple attending brought a blessing they read to our unborn child. These good friends gathered around, placed a hand on me and prayed for his safe delivery and future. The reality of the enormous responsibility I had chosen settled like the extra poundage I carried.

In June, we celebrated my son’s graduation and departure from our home. Over 100 friends and family gathered to eat, converse, and give good wishes. To celebrate his heritage, my son chose a Cuban theme for this party, and thankfully he decided a year in advance. It took that long to organize the details. However, one item we overlooked was to lock up the dog; she stole food from small guests and drank out of the ice buckets.

His graduation party celebrated his heritage with a variation of the traditional Cuban Christmas Eve dinner. Relatives and friends wrote letters to him, blessing and affirming him, encouraging him to remember who he is and where he comes from. His sports teams filled the house, eating record portions of food. It was a night of laughter and tears. I couldn’t stop staring at him – his high pitched little boy voice now replaced by a deep bass; his skinny bare arms now muscled and hairy; his little boy antics, well, that hasn’t changed. Thank goodness some things stay the same.

Prior to birthing my son, I attended prenatal classes. These sessions liberated me from the fear of the unknown. I absorbed every bit of information concerning the hospital visit. The birth video concerned me because I fainted during the birth film I’d viewed in high school, and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Instead, tears flowed as I witnessed the miracle of birth so close to what I would soon experience. When the classes ended, I knew exactly what would happen to me from the time I walked into the hospital until the time I left. I was ready.

This summer, I spent the day with my son in a college orientation for students and parents… for PARENTS! I don’t think mine knew anything about my college experience. Their job was to drop me off. I even paid the bills. However, being the planner I am, I appreciated the opportunity to get the details, because when asked, my son’s idea of information is, “yup,” or “nope,” or “don’t know.” However, to my frustration, parents were not allowed to go into the room with their children to plan their class schedules. My friend and I lamented this calamity over Chinese food. She was blocked from her son’s class enrollment also.

With embarrassment, she explained her blurt to the orientation coordinator, voicing every mother’s thoughts, “I’d like to go in there. What if he doesn’t choose the right classes? Is he being guided to make second and third choices in case he doesn’t get his first?” All faces turned and the room became still.

“What will he do when you aren’t here to hold his hand?” the coordinator returned sardonically. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut at our orientation.

After a day of lecture, I received my portly three-ringed binder with ten color-coded sections. It contains academic requirements, a dictionary of commonly used terms and phrases, offices and services, money matters, housing and much more. I know every detail. I know where he will sleep and eat. I’ve seen where he’ll spend his days. I know how much it will cost and when the bill is due. We even got a printout of his schedule. “Here’s where you can eat breakfast.” I pointed out. “That’s the most important meal of the day.” With his manual and mine, we are armed and ready.

Even children from the best-planned families sometimes destroy their lives. I faced that fact fearfully as birth grew close. I wondered what my son would be like. As a teacher I taught many troubled kids, and I wondered if I could cope with parenting a difficult child. College presents another dilemma. I have seen many kids leave home and ruin their lives with alcohol, drugs, or bad relational mistakes. I search my son’s personality probing for seeds of disaster. He stands out; he’s big, exuberant, and never goes unnoticed. Parent teacher conferences embarrassed me in junior high. I knew the teachers were wondering why I, who also taught, couldn’t get him to behave. “He’s such a nice boy,” they would say, “but he won’t be quiet.”

In high school I sat cringing, waiting for the bad news. The teachers reported what an excellent and mature young man he was, more like an upperclassman. “Are you sure you are talking about my son?” I faltered.

“Yes, the football player? He’s such a nice young man.” At home we often saw the surly and selfish side. Yet others said good things; he chose good friends, kept his curfew, threw himself into sports, and stayed out of trouble. Though I’ve lived with him for 19 years, I don’t fully know my son. The seeds look promising, but a mom is the last to know.

I could not have anticipated the level and variety of emotion I experienced at my son’s birth. The first emotion was shock. I jumped when I saw his size. I’m not sure what I expected, but he seemed enormous. No wonder I resembled a small bus in the last months of my pregnancy. Without warning, a love for that screaming child flooded my whole being. When they circumcised him, I fell apart, and I wasn’t even there. My husband, who was with him, returned white and visibly shaken. Already this child had grabbed hold of us in a deep way.

This hold continued to grow over the years. I planned the perfect child, but he was difficult. At the age of three, he did not like floppy shoelaces, but didn’t know how to tell us. It took three months for us to figure out what was wrong. He’d fuss, try to kick off his shoes, said his feet hurt, and went to the doctor’s office in a wheelchair, all because he didn’t like floppy shoelaces. Bed-wetting haunted us into elementary school until he had major kidney surgery. Controlling and communicating his emotions appropriately was a continual struggle for him and for us. As the old saying goes, you appreciate something more the harder you work for it. We worked hard raising this boy and the love is deep. Now he is a 245-pound football player with rough edges and a big heart, and we have to give him up. If he is hurt, we won’t be able to hold him; if he makes wrong choices, we can’t rescue him; if he needs help, we aren’t there. Plans and lists have no impact when he is gone.

The pressure to acquire began in earnest before my son’s arrival. “Necessary” items included a rocker, crib, stroller, tub, protabed, car seat, and bouncer. The list grew from there. Somehow you would think my son’s leaving home would remove some of the paraphernalia collected throughout the years. Instead, a new list of items has been created – computer, iron, microwave, refrigerator, futon and more. “I need a cell phone, Mom. My social life depends on it.” American consumerism grabbed us by the throat when he was born and has and continued an unrelenting squeeze.

I worried incessantly about sleep loss before my son was born. I slept eight glorious hours per night, and if interrupted too often, became irritable. Those early months tested me greatly. A book on developing good sleep habits in your children became my bible. Gradually he began to sleep through the night and was quite a good sleeper. We had peaceful years until he reached high school and acquired his driver’s license. Control grew to be a distant memory. Sleep eluded me late into the night until the garage door opened. Once he goes to college, out of sight and out of mind, peace will return (unless the hot flashes continue).

My son’s birth changed my life in a way I couldn’t plan. Nothing has been harder or more rewarding than raising my children. My job comes to an end soon. I face the future with mixed feelings – with sadness (I will miss him), with nostalgia (my own college experience was fantastic), with fear (will he be okay?), with relief (I can sleep through the night again), and with anticipation (he was darn hard to raise – now it’s time for fun). I am trying to resist smothering him with advice in these last few months. My son is a man now. He has to make his own way. I cannot plan his future. Or could I? We do have the perfect wife for him. She’s smart, athletic, pretty, and comes from a great family…