Saturday, May 12, 2012

"Happy Mother's Day"

“Please dress nicely.  If possible, please wear pink and/or green which are the Home Tour Colors.” 

These words were included in a last minute instructional email sent to me and all the other women who have volunteered to staff the House Tour.  Seven spectacular houses were opened to the public as a fundraiser for my younger son’s school.  I’d been asked to write descriptions of the homes for the program booklet and also to serve as a docent in one of the homes during the tour.  I’ve been working on this fundraiser for months, yet I still find it baffling that someone might send me an email suggesting I wear pink.
“Welcome! You can tour this house shoes-in-hand or you can slip those little booties over your shoes.”

This is practically all I say for the three hours of my shift. I say it over and over again, to the hundreds of women and the few brave men that I greet at the door of the Upper Mountain mansion.  I imagine that’s why my jaw aches so much right now but deep down I suspect it’s really because of The Teenager. 

Sometimes, to break up the monotony, I say to the guests, “This is a booty house,” and I point to the little wicker basket filled with blue crepe galoshes like the ones that operating room nurses wear over their white sensible shoes.  Although, in truth, I don’t need to break up the monotony much, because I have a teenager, and no matter how much I prepare otherwise, that teenager always seems to find a way to commandeer my day.
“Mom, I have this big architecture project due today and the teacher is letting me have the weekend to finish it because of the AP tests…”

This is the teenager, prattling on from his cell phone about his current crisis.  I have my iPhone up to my ear, half listening, while I smile at entering guests and point to the bootie basket, assuming that they’ll understand what I want them to do. 

He wants me to pick up his architecture project between 2:00 and 2:30 because he has to get on a bus to a track meet.

“I can’t,” I tell him. “I’m working.  Get someone else.”   I’m smiling and bootie-pointing while he tells me no one else can help him with this.  No one.  I listen to him longer than I should, mostly because my iPhone case is pink and I’m using it to comply with the dress code.

What the teenager doesn’t know – can’t know – is that my hot pink iPhone has been at my ear almost from the moment I arrived for my shift. I’m stationed in a big house with six volunteers slated to show guests around, but one volunteer was called away and another called in sick.  I’ve been handing out booties and fielding calls from event coordinators who have been trying to send me replacements but are instead calling with regrets.
“I can’t get anyone else to do this, Mom.  Please.  If you don't pick up this project,  I’ll get an F.”

When The Teenager calls on my hot pink iPhone, a picture of him comes up on the screen.  It was taken the day he got his driver’s license and it’s a sweet shot of a man-boy who is almost-but-not-quite smiling and looks almost-but-not-quite innocent.  It’s a picture in which you can see his underlying goodness and easily forget about his overarching disorganization. 

My heart warms ever so slightly as I regard this picture and I soon find myself calling and texting friends to cover my bootie-offering position while I dash over to the high school to retrieve The Teenager's work. 
I present the requisite picture ID needed to enter the high school and scurry to the main office to get a pass to the architecture studio.  I’m feeling buoyant and benevolent – new volunteers have been sent to the house; I’m able to help my son; and I’ll still be back to the house tour in time to close up and clean up for the homeowners. 

The High School Receptionist offers to walk me to the architecture studio, rightly prescient that I’d never be able to locate it in the bowels of the building on my own.  The studio teacher hands me a huge wooden board – a portable drafting table – with The Teenager’s drawings taped to it.  My keys are dangling from my fingers and my bag is slipping off my shoulder as I haul the unwieldy thing up the stairwell and call out to the kid ahead of me to please hold the door so I can manage through.

During our short walk together, I tell the High School Receptionist how The Teenager lets me know (as often as he can) that he thinks kids should be afforded more independence and that mothers really just get in the way and botch things up. Yet, here I am, dragging his work home for him.

This conversation takes place at 2:00, long before The Teenager will ask me to pick him up from his track meet 20 miles away and give me a snort and an eye-roll when I ask him if he’s sure he has everything as we get in the car.  Longer still before I drive him to his own high school’s field house, where he’s left his car, and where I watch him search, futilely, for his car keys, which must have fallen from his pocket at the track meet. Longer even still from the time when, back home, I scream every curse word I’ve ever learned at him because he is stomping and grousing about having to go back to the track meet to find the keys. 

If I had told the High School Receptionist any of that, she would not have been left with a particularly savory impression of The Teenager.  The High School Receptionist doesn’t have that pink iPhone picture to look upon and remind herself how The Teenager can light up a room with his giggle and his smile. 

And she herself might have found it even more wry, maybe even ironic, as I teetered through the door, off balance not only as a result of The Teenager’s architecture project, but perpetually off balance just by virtue of my ongoing proximity to teenagers in general, that her parting words to me still echo in my head: “Happy Mother’s Day!”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Mother Enchanted

“Don’t fall in love with your son’s girlfriend.”

This directive was recently offered up by Cathy, my best friend from high school.  We were together at a small reunion and we resumed our natural roles, me sitting at her feet as she dispensed advice.  Cathy married first and had children first, so she’s always been a bit of a mentor to me. 

Cathy was the one who, early in my parenting, told me, “You can’t force a child to eat or sleep or poop, so don’t even bother trying” – a piece of information that saved my sanity if not my life. 

In fact, I’ve taken to heart most of the mothering advice she’s handed down, so, I admit, her cautionary words did dance around in my head the first few times I met my son’s girlfriend. But I’m afraid, for the most part, Cathy, it’s too late.

Is that because The Girlfriend is fresh-faced and dresses like Stevie Nicks?  No.

Is it because she has an infectious smile and an easy laugh?  No.

And it’s not because she’s smart or funny or upbeat or urbane.  In fact, I don’t know if she’s any of those things, because I barely know her.  But what I do know is that she’s a girl – a commodity this household has been woefully under-stocked with in the last seventeen and a half years.

“Hi,” she says to me when she walks in the house.  “How was your day?”  (This is a sentence that has never been uttered by my own offspring.  No, not once.)

“My day was great,” I say, and I begin telling her about the jewelry show I’d been invited to that day.  I tell her how a woman in town makes interesting costume jewelry and sells it at a very reasonable price and that I normally would just go to look, but today I ended up buying five pieces and the whole experience made me downright giddy. 

I notice, as I tell her this story, that there’s a fluidity missing to my speech.  I hear myself deliver it in tentative chunks, waiting for her eyes to glaze, as my sons’ do whenever I offer more than two words of detail about anything that has to do with clothing. Or jewelry.  Or haircuts.  Or me. 

But there was no glazing.  Instead, she responded in a way that was so remarkable I found myself replaying it in my head for the rest of the day and even for days beyond. 

She said, “Really?  Can I see it?”

She just asked to see my jewelry!!!

I bounded upstairs and reemerged a minute later with a silly smile on my face and a fistful of baubles in my hand.  I showed her one piece at a time, offering detail after detail of the event itself – how three strangers told me that the turquoise piece was perfect for me, and how I just went ahead and bought it even though it was a little more of a “statement” than I was used to making. 

“Ohhh, it’s so pretty,” she said, in a sing-song girly way that couldn’t be more foreign in my burp-and-grunt home. 

Is she blowing smoke up my butt? I wondered.  Maybe.  I don’t even care.  In fact, like it. 

As a mother of boys I’ve told myself certain stories over the last many years: Girls are high maintenance. Girls have too much drama.  Girls are petty and bossy and mean.  As an ex-girl myself, I know all too well how vicious and rude girls can be to their mothers.  I tell these stories to feel ok about living in house full of boys – boys who don’t want to discuss the nuances of nail color or the finer points of feelings – and I’ve convinced myself that I’m somehow better off in the long run because I don’t have all that gooey girl stuff to deal with.

But I’d forgotten about this.  The authentic and palpable excitement about some very important aspects of life that, let’s face it, boys can’t even be bothered to feign. 

Am I really in love with my son’s girlfriend, Cathy?  No, of course not.  But I do have a wicked mean crush.