I was sure I was having a girl. That’s all we ever had in my family–girls.
Turned out, he was the best baby boy in the world. I sang a made-up song to him to that effect. And I took him everywhere with me–to publishing clients, to editorial offices, to typesetting shops. He was the sidekick on my hip, the white-blond, curly-haired boy who smiled at anyone who smiled at him.
He was my best boy.
He was brilliant, of course. I just knew he was. He loved to learn everything and anything. When he had a day off from nursery school, he cried.
When he started “real” school, however, the smile faded somewhat and was replaced more often than not with an unwavering look of concentration. “Who is this kid?” the kindergarten teachers asked. He is so intense. What gives?
But we moved, and we never found out what gave. Because he continued to do very well in grade school. But he became less and less happy in middle school. Less able to give his intense all to any of it.
And as I became more ensconced in my career as a writer, and then took up a sideline teaching teenagers far older than my boy, he came to me at midnight one school night, when I was grading papers, and said, “I can’t go to the high school everyone else is going to.”
When your 14 -year-old says he can’t go to the public school where all his friends are going, you listen. And you try to hear as much as you can between all the lines your kid is feeding you. Because this is just that serious.
Thus, in April eight years ago, when all the worthy private schools you can’t afford have sent out their acceptance letters, when all possibility of making a drastic change such as this is certainly over, a casually dropped name of a consultant who “might help” lands in your email, and she has an appointment open next week, and many tests and many talks later, a fantastic school that costs a fortune is recommended–except they are full.
And then it is July, and your very bright kid clears a wait list you really didn’t know he was on, and his life begins again. And you figure, what better way to use the money saved for college than on high school tuition?
High school was no cake walk, but it was the best it could be–decent-enough grades, predictable acting out, learning to drive–and all the other first-born teenager stuff that causes a mother to finally use such original phrases as, “You just wait ’till you’re a parent!”–probably on the night the arbitrary curfew seemed moot.
And then, in a fleeting second, high school was over, and this beautiful baby boy, along with his stressed and likely too-strict parents, emerged semi-unscathed, and he was accepted into a Midwest university I confess I had never heard of until we visited it for the “Accepted Students” reception. I kind of wanted to run screaming from the place. It was full of nice people–really nice–for sure, but what was with the high quota of popped-collars? Did everyone press their jeans? What gives here? I wondered.
But my son liked it enough, because, as he pointed out, they had unlimited all-you-can-eat buffets on the meal plan, and freshmen who lived more than 250 miles away could have a car that they could park in a lot roughly a mile off campus. Never mind that my boy didn’t have a car. These were the things that mattered to him at that moment in April, four years ago.
It was also the last college we visited, and he was tired of trying to make up his mind about where to land. In the end, this was the last place that made a lasting enough impression to make him sign the “accepted” letter.
We all cried the day we moved him into his miniscule dorm room and left him to fend for himself with a subsequent lineup of roommates who would have made great fodder for a TV sit-com, but who were the bane of my boy’s first taste of life on his own. One by one, they left or were asked to leave, and by second semester, the miniscule double was finally a single in which he set up a mini ping-pong table, which prompted new friends to stop by.
“Mom, you should know the pictures in the catalog lie about this place,” he told me on my first visit that dreary day in November. “The sun goes away in the second week in September. I don’t think it comes out again until next July.” In a way, he wasn’t all that wrong. Ohio winters suck. Really suck. Socially, all was okay. Not perfect, but okay. Go Greek? Nah. Change his major? Sure–how about three times?
And still, he wanted to stay at this university, and we and he continued to take out the loans to keep him there–fall into spring, spring into summer. Because, it turned out, he was learning to love this university–to love the professors and a major plus a minor that had nothing whatsoever to do with what he’d started out studying two years before.
His dad and I were falling in love with the school, too, and we looked forward to every visit whenever my boy invited us. His dad and I usually visited separately, job demands being what they were, are. I got every two months and the Fourth of July. Mr. Restaurant Gal got the other odd month and Easter. Every year, however, we wondered aloud to our boy, “Can you still do this in four years?”
Moving off campus helped, because the town is simply an extension of the university, and it is loaded with crazy-named group houses and apartments. My boy learned to cook quite well and how to brew a decent-enough beer, which has prompted a few to ask if he’d consider that as a profession. He is, thanks to one professor, becoming more than knowledgeable about wine. Which goes hand-in-hand with his job as a university private-events banquet server. Go figure.
His grades steadily improved, as did his interest in scary-sounding science and land-use law classes. He was awarded a competitive grant that garnered him a stipend and almost a semester’s worth of credits over one summer. “No one else wanted it,” he said in his understated, self-depricating way. “So they gave the grant to me.” But I heard differently from a professor’s sister who just happened to have been my first editor at my first job out of college. Funny how life harnesses your past to meld with a loved one’s future. And you can’t even believe the coincidence, the utter unlikeliness of it all.
And now, my beautiful baby boy has a beautiful girlfriend whom I suspect he is not ready to leave behind, even as he graduates and she has one more year to toil in computer labs and library cubicles. He is likely graduating with a grade-point average he could only have dreamed of attaining as a high school student. Because, in these years at a university that demanded his best, he has discovered what it is to become a student who loves learning for the simple love of learning it all.
Who would have thought? Who could have known? And yet, somewhere, somehow, all along, through all the angst and ups and downs, I now know he thought it; he knew it.
On the almost-eve of his graduation from college this weekend, when it would be so easy to write about the time flying by and how could I be old enough to have a kid this old and all the rest of the stale cliches, I find myself only wanting to share my love for this boy.
Some might ask: But how could you, would you, be so public about your own child–on your blog, of all places?
Because my pride for my boy knows no limits, and I want the whole world to know it.