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Friday, July 22, 2016

Home for Good

“It’s 7 pm on a Tuesday night.  He’s been home less than 24 hours. And by the way, that's your table in the picture,” I texted my friend Angela.

“The boys felt incomplete without him,” she answered.

“I didn’t.”

“LOL. I know exactly how you feel.”

I’ve never had a kid move back home after college. I lucked out with the daughter who took a Teach for America job in New Orleans immediately after graduating. She’s threatened, but never moved back home.

Once the youngest went off to college two years ago, I became a part-time mother, which suits me just fine. Most of the year is free from fretting and flipping out, because I only do that when they’re in my physical space. Sure, I get mildly concerned with the “I didn’t realize if you fail a class it gets averaged into your GPA,” or the the “I never knew they doubled your fine if you didn’t pay a parking ticket,” or the “I have to have my original birth certificate by tomorrow, are you sure you gave it to me?” calls.  But, mostly I can let things roll off my shoulders.

When they’re home, it’s a whole different story.

My middle child went to California for college. He has highfalutin tastes and knows not to even ask for help in purchasing hundred-dollar jeans. Or over-priced hair products. He always worked multiple jobs while in school so he didn’t have to alter the lifestyle to which he had somehow become accustomed. Working multiple jobs meant less time home between semesters and in the summers. So I really haven’t seen much of Max in the past four years.

And I’ve learned I can put up with a lot when I know there’s a plane ticket dangling in the not-so-distant future.

I love Max. He’s fun. He’s a hard-worker. He’s smart. He’s independent. He’s a people-pleaser. And I like to be pleased.

Maybe he won’t eat leftovers, but he doesn’t complain about it either. He just quietly picks up and goes to Victor’s for pizza. He leaves the toilet seat up, but I’m so used to falling in the toilet bowl in the middle of the night that it doesn’t even make my list of minor annoyances. He takes the car that he and his brother share without asking, but he fills up the tank. He drinks too much of my Diet Coke, but he does the grocery shopping for me. He loves my tacos, the dog and most of all, his friends. But he loves me, too. He even put it in print.

So, I was not as worried as one might think at the prospect of him returning home.

He graduated in May but was finishing up a class and a job so didn’t come home until Monday night.
For good.

“I donated five bags of clothes to Goodwill,” he announced after dragging multiple suitcases into his room. The room that had become the family closet in his absence. The room that I spent two days cleaning so he’d have a place to sleep. The room that still houses a twin-sized bed in which his six-foot-three frame unfolds every night. The room that you can no longer see the floor, so completely covered it is with his California stuff.  And will be for several months.

“You going out with your friends tonight?” I asked when he got home around 10 on Monday night.

“Nah. Think I’ll just chill tonight.”  

Music to a mother’s ears. 

 “Why don’t you apply for some JOBS?” the father gently suggested.

“Don’t worry, Pops,” Max answered. “I got this.”

Max slept late on Tuesday morning which was fine with me.

My desk is set up in the front window on the first floor in an open nook adjacent to the living room. I look out onto the front yard where I get a ringside view of the fluttering birds, blooming flowers and neighbors, as they come and go. My kids park their car right smack in front of my desk so I’m always forewarned when my peace is about to pass all understanding.

I love my home office. But there’s no door. No sound barrier. No privacy. Which is why, when another human being steps into the main floor of the house, I lose concentration and revert into mom mode. I offer everything from sandwiches to advice with a little laundry in between. The reasoning is, if I take care of all their needs before they ask (which they may or may not do), I can get back to work.

That, “Maaaaaahhhm,” out of any of their mouths is a trigger. One I can’t ignore. Which is why I ignored the need to make money for far too long.

But for the past couple years I’ve been back in the saddle, crafting words into dollars to help pay the bills. I have my routine and it works. Until they come home. 

On Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the prodigal son returned, I heard the unmistaken boom, boom, boom of a radio turned  up way too loud, half a block before the old, gold Acura pulled up out front. I finished typing a sentence, took a deep breath and watched Max and three of his friends barrel out of the car, into the house.

“Hey, Miss Betsy!” they greeted me as kindly as they ever had. These are the same old friends who have been in and out of my house for a decade. The same old friends who all flew out to his graduation in May. The same old friends who look at me with their big brown eyes when I call them out on anything as absurd as not wearing their seat belts.

“Oh, we just unhooked them when we pulled onto your road,” they said, almost in unison.

They piled onto the back deck and I made an attempt to go back to work. After all, these were grown men now. I didn’t have to offer them penne vodka anymore. They’d just as soon have it straight up. 

 “BRB,” Max said as two of them darted through the house and out the front door.

“Where you going?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“To Kris’s to pick up a table.”

A table?

Fifteen minutes later, with the arrival of Susie, the backyard had been successfully transformed into a Beer Pong arena.

I simply went back to my desk and texted my friend Angela to commiserate.

The Beer Pong tournament ended before it got dark and they dispersed by Uber to parts unknown. When I got up for a bathroom visit at 3:23 am, Max still wasn’t home. But I heard his air conditioner rumbling behind closed doors when I rolled out of bed at 8.

My spouse, who left home at 18 and, except for a summer or two, never lived there again, has mocked me mercilessly for moving in and out of my parents’ house until I was 26 years-old. And now that I have kids dangerously approaching that age, 26 doesn’t seem as old nor independent as it should.

“They didn’t mind,” I tell him. “I was never home.”

Kind of like Max.

I have since learned that a friend is coming from LA next week when the father and I are away.

“Oh, too bad,” Max said. “I wanted you to meet her.”

“Oh, I will,” I said. “We’re not going to be gone long.”

And, I’m certainly not going to tell you exactly when we’re leaving and when we’re returning, either. That much I learned in Parenting 101.

I also learned that he will be throwing a welcome home party for himself next Saturday.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Max said. “I’ll pay for the keg.”

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Next Great Generation is Here

“Want to hold him?” Deirdre asked in the midst of a backyard graduation party on Saturday. One with free-flowing liquor, I might add.

I gulped. I really did. Then figured if she trusted me with her one month-old first-born, who was I to question her judgment?  And so, I cradled that teeny tiny baby boy in my arms, and soon  realized I wasn’t going to drop him. Some things you don't forget, no matter how many years it’s been.

When I had my first baby, I believed, and rightfully so, that everyone in the world knew more about child rearing than I did. I tried to hide my uncertainty behind bold moves that included taking my newborn to a crowded restaurant days before her umbilical stub broke off, handing her off to any stranger who was willing to hold her and hiring an 18 year-old babysitter, who I interviewed for no more than thirty seconds, to be her surrogate mother when I went back to work.

I have always parented by two basic principles: what would keep me out of the headlines and public opinion. I would defer to my spouse if one of them needed stitches, Tylenol or a trip to the doctor. That way I could always blame him if, God forbid, anyone accused me of over-reacting.

Instead, I tended to under-react. When my kids turned ten, their adventurous aunt who, with no children of her own, knew less than I did, took them on a trip – anywhere in the world they wanted to go. The daughter chose Australia, the middle one went bicycling through Italy and the youngest boated down the Amazon River.

“You’re letting a ten year-old go on a plane, to another country, without you, even after what happened on 9/11?”

“Yeah, why not?”

One year I sent my middle one to a sleep-away camp in its inaugural and very bare-bones season because I didn’t want to hurt the founder’s feelings. I walked away with the worst trepidation I’d ever felt in my parenting career. But I walked away.

I sent my 15 year-old daughter off on an unaccredited and only somewhat vetted trip to China because I had a girl crush on a mother who said it was a great opportunity.  

I let my kids go to post-prom parties and weekends in Wildwood knowing exactly what was going to transpire. I let the middle one drive across the bridge into Manhattan the day he got his license and the youngest drive four hours to Boston in a “new” car with over 180,000 miles on it.

I let them swim right after they ate, go outside without jackets and play violent video games. I put them in over-populated cars to baseball tournaments 800 miles away and sleep in six-to-a-room hotels. I let them play basketball in the heart of Harlem, the bowels of the Bronx and in questionable parts of Queens. I never once called another parent to ask if they were really going to be home during the party. And I always said yes to water parks, road trips and late-night Fright Fest at Six Flags.

By the grace of God, my kids survived. They continue to travel, seek adventure, live in faraway places and do things they probably shouldn’t. Luckily, they’re all hale and hearty and happy that I didn’t hold them back.

But, it wasn’t because I was an easy-going mom. I harbored a whole lot of inner (and outer) anxiety over my parenting decisions, all because I was so afraid of what people would think. For whatever reason, it was always more important for me to be perceived as over-permissive than over-protective.

There’s nothing mothers like better than imparting their infinite wisdom to those who are new to the game. And so, while baby Connor got passed around faster than the hors d’oeuvres last Saturday afternoon, Michelle and I (and others who popped in and out in between Moscow Mules), shared the secrets of our many parenting successes, while consciously downplaying our many mistakes. And believe me, it's really easy to see the difference when your kids are twenty years out of diapers. 

 Deirdre and Bobby have that new parent glow that toggles between utter adoration and sheer exhaustion. They listened and laughed as we seasoned mothers made fun of ourselves. And because my kids made it through somewhat unscathed, I felt I had earned the right to taunt these brand-new parents. After all, young parents are the absolute worst -- helicoptering and hovering far more than we ever did. I did my best to horrify them with my child rearing philosophies, both past and present.

“I bottle fed so the father could experience the joy of a 2 am feeding,” I confessed.

 “Me too,” Deidre said. “I pump.”

“Really?” I said, baffled. I thought every baby in this new generation came out glued to their mama’s nipple, not to be pried away until pre-school. With that, she tossed a bottle to my eagerly-waiting spouse so that he could relive the joy of feeding a baby.

"I never sterilized a bottle in my life,” I added.

“Oh, I don’t either,” Deidre confessed. “After all, the minute you touch it, it’s no longer sterile.”

“We got our first babysitter when Molly was a week old,” I said, sure that I'd raise an eyebrow with that one. “I guess you haven’t left Connor yet?”

“Sure we have,” Bobby answered.

"Wow. He's only what, 40 days old?"

"No, 36."

“You have absolutely no problem with people touching your baby,” I observed.

“Builds up the immunities,” Deirdre chuckled and I smiled, recalling the passing off of our first-born, three-day old baby to the mailman.

As Connor let out a big belch over my spouse’s shoulder, Deirdre's parents swooped in.

“We were just in the neighborhood,” her mom said. 

Deirdre smirked. My spouse handed the goods over to the grandfather. 

“Dad!” Deirdre shrieked. “He’s falling asleep!”

“Oh, let him sleep,” maternal Michelle crooned. “He looks so peaceful.”

“You can’t let him sleep!” I piped in. “You have to keep him on a schedule.”

“That’s right!” the new parents agreed. “Otherwise, we’ll never have a life!”

“I used to keep a little notebook to record every time my babies ate. I had them on a four-hour schedule and let them scream their heads off if it wasn't time to eat. Every now and then I’d cheat and give them a bottle 15 minutes early. But then I lied in the notebook. As if anyone would ever know. Or care."

“Oh, Betsy!” Michelle admonished.

“Look what I have!” Deirdre said, pulling out her phone to show me the app she used to record Connor's feedings.

At 7:00, Bobby and Deirdre dutifully said good night and headed home to begin the bedtime ritual with their newborn baby.

“I’m shocked!” I said later to my daughter. “I can’t believe what good parents they are!”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Of course they’d be good parents.”

“I’m just surprised they're so calm. They treat him like he's the third kid, not the first. They pass him around like a hot potato. They let him cry. They aren’t worried about germs and drunks and I don't know, they're just so un-overprotective."

“But Mom,” the daughter said. “That’s the way you were.”

“Yeah, but, look how you turned out.”

I got that old familiar eye roll and smiled. 

Because I've been in this parenting thing long enough to know that even if I did things for the wrong reasons, it was because there was always something about it that felt right. And while I certainly didn't come close to doing everything right, my rights outweighed my wrongs.

Deirdre and Bobby will surely make their child-rearing mistakes and may from time-to-time be scorned by been-there-done-that parents and peers. But they're going to do it with love-filled hearts, open-minded souls and probably a whole lot of prayer. 

And that will make all the difference. 

Welcome to the world, Connor. You're one lucky fellow!