Friday, May 6, 2016

Proud of a Quitter

For the past several months, it's been all about The Princess as she applied to colleges, anxiously awaited acceptance letters, prepares for prom and graduation and all of those senior "lasts." The last high school exam. The last day of school. The last morning car ride to PEHS with Brother Jake.

Some of her peers border on the downright ridiculous with the mantra, citing things back in August such as:  "'s like, the last first day of high school ever for us."

I gag on so many levels.

In all the first lasts and real lasts, it's easy for this guy to get lost in the shuffle.
I went to bed one night, woke up, and bumped into my baby in the hallway to realize he's now a man. A mini one in age and experience, but not in stature.

When I think of Jake, the word 'complex' comes to mind. He's laid back, but passionate. Easy going, but explodes like a firecracker when provoked. Usually kind, but quick with a sarcastic right hook.
I think I know him fairly well, despite the depths of his thoughts and width of his personality.

During parent teacher conferences earlier this Spring, his math teacher raved about him and how well respected he is by his peers. The English teacher confirmed his improvements in her class while sharing how engaging he is in the classroom. His APUSH teacher asked him probing questions about his future, what he does for fun, and what he wants his final two years of high school to look like. I learned at an early age to let my kids answer for themselves - to order their own food in restaurants, to answer the doctor's questions directly, and I just fill in the blanks when they look over at me wide-eyed. This strategy served us well over the years, and listening and watching him interact with his teachers provided me with a revelation.

I don't know my son at all.

He's witty, engaging, and the life of the classroom. At home, Jake is present when appropriate, but retreats often. Meaning, he comes and talks to me when he gets home from school every day, but is comfortable and happy alone in his room. In school he engages in every class discussion, offering insightful and relevant commentary. At home he certainly talks to us and shares his opinions, but he's so easygoing and others in my household can be rather (ahem) dominant, that when his teachers gushed back in March, I was a bit surprised.

After the first two conferences, I stopped dead in my tracks in the hallway and searched my boy's face for answers. "Who are you?" I asked. He slyly smirked and hugged me. He knows so much more than I give him credit for. He let me in - just a little bit - to the real him, and I'm astounded with the potential my son holds.

Mrs. Corcoran, his Chemistry teacher, was next. He warned me as we walked in the room: "Mom, this one loves me."
"OK," I acknowledged.
"No. I mean it. She really likes me a lot. You'll see."

They bantered. They lobbed witticisms back and forth, their Wimbledon match of sarcastic backhands and forehands each accumulating more topspin with every exchange, until Jake's passing shot finally put her away and ended the point.

They looked over to find me mouth agape, pupils enlarged, utterly astounded. We all busted out laughing. I didn't know if I should be appalled with my son's behavior, or admire his ability to shut his chemistry teacher down with an overhead smash. I opted for the latter.

"OH!" he exclaimed. "Mrs. Corcoran. Remember that time you asked us to reflect on first semester, and to write something positive?"

She narrowed her eyes at him, clearly peeved. "Yes, Jake," she hissed. "I remember perfectly. How could I forget?" Oh dear. She was miffed.

They giggled and snorted, and walked over to the whiteboard to show me.
 What a brat.
Anybody who knows my kids will say how remarkably different they are. Ever one to love, adore, and dote on an introvert, I have to confess that I'm thrilled Jake is just that. Their minds rest in the depths of their thoughts, and once you really, really get to know one, the interpersonal relationship is like none other.
He recently came to us declaring he no longer wanted to play hockey. At first we were astounded - mostly because we just assumed it would be his extracurricular activity of choice though high school and maybe even beyond. But we quickly realized that his maturity reaches far beyond his years. If he no longer loves a sport as he once did, and he is astute enough to realize that he won't play that sport for a career, then maybe there are other things he'd like to pursue. Things like getting involved in Student Council. How does an introvert join one of the more extroverted activities around? An enigma, that boy. Perhaps run for an officer position in DECA next year, and persuade more of his friends to join him. Secure a position in a local small business from 3:00-5:00 every day learning some applicable future skills. It doesn't matter. Just like when he decided he was done playing guitar, he found his next niche. He'll find another one after hockey.

The night of parent teacher conferences I drove him to hockey practice. Before he got out of the car, I told him I'm proud of him, for putting himself out there, engaging with teachers and peers, and for just kicking ass in school. I used to think my kids needed to get straight As, or nearly that, to be their best. But I was wrong. There are so many other important skills for them to learn in order to achieve their best self. And he gets it.

As he unloaded his gear from the back of the car, I stepped out with him, as I always did. I hugged him tightly and kissed the hollow of his neck, like I always do, because the parking lot was empty and nobody could see. I looked him in his eyes that night like I have a thousand times over, and I told him I love him.

"I love you too, Mom."

I watched him walk into the hockey rink, my heart busting wide open with love and adoration for that boy. I watched him through the glass doors, pausing before the digital sign to see what rink they were assigned. And I watched him walk away.

I put the car in drive, smiling to myself, overcome with emotion, and suddenly became the cliche.

It was the last time I'd ever drive my son to hockey practice. I pulled into a parking spot and bawled my eyes out, so proud of the man he's becoming, and grateful for the realization that a part of his life was coming to an end only for another door to open. I'm proud of my quitter because he's mature enough to realize when it's the end of the road for him with one endeavor, yet anxiously seeks other opportunities to pursue. With the absence of late night practices and multi-game weekends, we will now have so many more meaningful moments with him over the next two years while we suck every last bit of pleasure having him home with us. I hope he's ready to get spoiled rotten.

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there. And if you're a kid reading this? Don't worry about buying Mom a card or gift for Sunday. Share some nuggets with her instead. She'll fall in love with you all over again.


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