Saturday, March 22, 2008

Catching Them If They Fall

So apparently a wrinkle in time occurred during College-Tour-a-palooza, because I just noticed that the post I wrote on Wednesday, March 19, is actually dated Tuesday, March 18. Yes, it's all been exhausting, but I know I wrote it on Wednesday. That's why the title is "If Yesterday was Tuesday ..." Maybe I got my wish to get my hour back ....

Anyway, we are home now, and not a moment too soon. College-Tour-a-palooza was a great success -- more on that in a minute -- but things were starting to get ugly, calorie-wise. I mean, I ate a cheeseburger and french fries dipped in feta cheese dressing for lunch Friday, for God's sake, and added some perfectly horrible McDonald's chocolate chip cookies during our final drive just to keep my strong coffee company. Of course, I've spent my first day home eating some more: I topped a hot brownie Ben had just baked with a large spoonful of peanut butter, and dinner was way too much pizza. But not too worry -- I have burned at least 50 calories typing today, and I managed to gather a load of laundry and actually walk all the way upstairs to wash it. (Yes, you're right -- I should be careful not to overdo it.)

We went from Texas the beginning of the week to Georgia, where we visited Emory on Thursday and the University of Georgia on Friday. (No, Billy's not set on a southern school; it was just cheapest to stay in one region of the country on this trip.) Billy loved all of them.

There are actually two sets of impressions of all these schools. One is Billy's; the other is mine and Bob's. Although often we agreed, it's important to remember we're talking about two different entities. "We're" not going to college anywhere. Billy will be leaving us at home, which is best for all involved.

Yet trying to imagine my firstborn living and learning away from home -- in some cases far away from home -- is both exhilarating and anxiety-provoking. I realized as I crossed a busy street near Rice's campus that I was envisioning Billy being mowed down there by a car. By the time he actually enrolls somewhere he'll be 19, but in a part of my heart he will always be someone whose hand needs holding in traffic.

I saw that part of him last weekend at the Houston Rodeo, of all places.

Not being real experienced cattle folk, we Birds had no clue what exactly we'd be seeing during the calf roping, which was the first event. We settled into our seats and looked at the huge video screens (we were about $30 per ticket too far up in the arena to see what was actually happening without magnification) only to see that the parts of the calf that are roped are both the neck and the legs. In other words, a tiny little cow is strapped into a bundle sort of like a shoulder bag and dragged away.

We're not animal people. We have two rather neglected cats, one fish, and absolutely no desire for any other pets. But I found myself wincing as I watched this, and wondering whether PETA was listed at 1-800-FREE-411. I certainly could be wrong, but it appeared to me that the roped calves would never be the same.

Billy was two seats to my right, and I happened to glance over at him. His huge brown eyes were glistening. And he looked at me, and he said, almost in a whisper, "I don't like this."

He's taller than I am, and he drops the f-bomb way too often, and he has secrets I'll never know. But for a few moments, his world was wrong, and he was looking to me to make it right. He was my little boy.

I held his eyes, and a few seconds later I did the only thing I could. I whispered "I love you."

Soon the moment had passed, and he was back to being a teenager and ordering crappy food. But I had seen that part that my heart knows is always in there somewhere.

When kids are little, they need you in every way. You wipe their bottoms and buy their shoes and make their breakfast. As each birthday passes, they need you a little less, until one day you realize you don't have a clue what their bathroom habits are, they won't wear anything you buy, and they don't eat breakfast. They don't need you and they don't need you and they don't need you ... until all of a sudden, they do.

The trick to parenting teenagers is to remain both vigilant and out of the way. I remember when Billy and Ben were little how I would hover with my hands cupped, ready to catch them if they fell as they climbed the ladder up to the slide. In a sense, I'm still doing the same thing.

So I've got my own opinions about the various schools. I'd sleep soundly at night if he were at Rice. I'd be worried sick if he enrolled at Texas. No matter how hard I try, I can't see him at Emory. I'd be happy as a clam if he wound up at Georgia.

But this is his decision to make. And because I know that he's three parts young adult and one part kindergardener, I realize that our opinions, if he knows too much about them, ultimately will shape his. That's why I'm trying to keep them to myself.

And so we'll continue on, considering these colleges and visiting others. He'll sample the food and check out the dorms and think about majors. And I'll be in the background, my hands outstretched, waiting to catch him if he falls.


Janie said...

Glad you enjoyed (sort of) your trip to Texas.

Are you going to make him stay in the dorms? If not, please do more research and pay the bucks to get him in a safe apartment/condo/whatever...Houston is just not a safe town.

MommyTime said...

I've been reading you for a while now, and even though my kids are still in the bottom-wiping stage (literally), your words here resonate so much for me -- because even at this age, there are moments when I face Little Miss "I do it!" and realize that they are working their hardest to move past needing me.

I hope Billy ends up someplace that makes you all thrilled and his college life as wonderful as it can be.

Mr Lady said...

I'm all teary-eyed over here, sister.