First Flights

As I navigate through another quiet morning, another start to the day with my son out of the house, I realize I follow the same routine whether he is here or not. It is quieter, sure, but my mornings and evenings now naturally, instinctively, follow this routine. A routine that has been 10 years in the making.

Ten years of carefully cultivating a schedule. Predictability. Of feeling responsible and being responsible for guiding another life, ironically, to a place that I can start letting go, bit by bit, to see how he manages the first small flights on his own.

This is how it starts, the emptying of the nest, though there are years yet left to go. Years of adjustment for all of us. I wonder what our schedule will look like as those years change our patterns, what my routine will be when the nest is empty. But I don’t want to think about that eventuality just yet.

On Friday, our school board had a PD day. I realized this at 3pm on Thursday and almost enrolled the boy in his usual after school program, but my husband said he wanted to spend the day with him. Usually, my husband has so many work projects on the go that this just isn’t possible and he often laments the fact that he doesn’t get to spend the fun times with the boy that I do. I was thrilled that they would have some time together.

Friday morning, he told the boy to dress nicely and off they went to a fancy hotel for breakfast, while I threw some granola in my lunch bag and headed to work.

Mid-morning, they called me from the car. “We’re going to Montreal!” they shouted exuberantly into the phone. “See you tomorrow!”

All day, my phone silently flashed with pictures of their exploits. I watched from my distance, bemused.

Of course, my son heading on a road trip with my husband is hardly an emptying of the nest. But it is a change, even a small step in that direction; for 10 years it’s been my son and me, for 6 years it’s been my son and my husband and me. Only every now and then is it the two of them. This is a good thing. They are still getting used to each other, even now, after living together for almost 6 years.

Friday evenings we usually clean the house as a family. It’s an established part of the routine. Not wanting to have to face a Saturday with chores, I spent Friday evening cleaning in the solitude, my mind wandering. It took me 5 hours to get everything done but still I was in bed at pretty much the same time I would have been if they’d been here. The routine remained intact.

Saturday morning I still woke up at 7:30, still got out of bed at 8. Like clockwork. They returned home shortly thereafter but my son went off again, this time to a friend’s house for a sleepover, mid-afternoon.

My mother-in-law came for dinner, which we ate in the garden at the same time we have dinner every night. My husband and I, though we had all the freedom that comes with an otherwise empty house, were still in bed at the usual time, watching the show we’ve been watching for weeks. We went to sleep at the same time we do most Saturday nights and again, we were up at 7:30.

I have time to write before I pick up the boy from his sleepover, but that’s not vastly different from other Sundays, either.

So, here I am, writing, thinking about schedules and slowly emptying nests. I have glimpsed what my life will be like in 8 to 10 years when my son has moved out and perhaps superficially it won’t be much different, though I can only imagine (and I try not to) the size of the hole his absence will leave me with.

Maybe I cling to the routine because it makes his absence feel temporary. Maybe it’s relief that I’m feeling as I reflect on the extent to which my life doesn’t change when he’s out of the house.

Though I like to know he can fly, though it makes me proud of him, I’m glad it’s not anywhere near the time that he will fly away.

That Whole Empty Nest Thing

It is early morning and the sun is blazing at angles I don’t usually get to see. My toes are still cold from waiting for a bus that was late, a bus that is currently taking my son to yet another ski hill on this very cold morning.

I’m feeling a bit bittersweet as I drive back through the barely-plowed streets towards home. It’s nice to be up so early, to see the rising sun golden on the blue snow, to know that I have a very long weekend day all to myself to do with as I wish.

But it’s also the first year since my son was 2 that we aren’t heading off to Winterlude, which has just started. He’s older, able to go off snowboarding on his own each weekend, to all sorts of hills, many of which I’ve never even been to. Of course that sounds more fun and more age-appropriate than lining up for 45 minutes to slide down a short little ice slide – the same one we lined up for 7 years ago – though I never minded standing in line chatting with him.

He’s having experiences that are all his own, without me. And so he should.

It’s good for him to be independent and it’s probably good for me, too. I’m proud of him, his ability to get on a bus full of strangers, spend a day with them, and come home with new friends and new stories to tell. Week after week. I would have cowered at the thought of doing that at his age. And now, I would probably be too lazy.

I know I will get things done today that I can’t always find the time to do. And I will do the regular things at a more leisurely pace because I have all day. And I will probably still run out of time, and will vaguely but not really wish I had just another hour to myself.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, letting your kid just go. I mean, I know he’ll be fine and I don’t worry about him, but it’s not easy in that big picture sense. It’s not easy doing the things we always did together, alone. And it’s not easy watching as he eagerly stretches his wings and starts to take little test flights away from the nest, no matter how much I might encourage him to do so.

Ugh. Parenting. Sometimes the only thing to get you through is a good book, a glass of wine and a bar of chocolate.

Father and Son

source: fiveprime.org

It is Sunday afternoon–the Sunday before Christmas–and, like most other families, the three of us are on our way from place to place. This, though, is an unscheduled stop.

“Where are we?” I ask, receiving no answer.

My husband smiles at my son and says simply, “C’mon.”

They leave me in the car and trudge out across the wide field that spreads before me. Small form following tall. I love the wonder and innocence in the way my son looks up every now and then to say something. I watch as their two silhouettes shrink into distance. They stop at the tree line on the other side of the field, by a short wooden fence.

Boyhood memories are being shared at the edge of the snow. I see one point towards the winding creek, explaining something, his voice swallowed by the silence. Capers from a past life. The other’s rapt attention shows even from a distance. His face follows the pointed hand, he listens, then speaks as well. Asking something. They laugh. I can’t hear them from here but I can see their postures shift. Eventually, they turn and, picking up speed, begin to run across the wide, white space. They seem suspended between a sky that matches the land, running but going nowhere, as their breath plumes out behind them. Gradually, though, they get closer. I can hear them laughing now, can see their looks full of determination.

“I’m going to beat you!” my son giggles, his arm outstretched toward the car.

When Childrearing Goes Awry

I’ve discovered that stress comes from more than just work. Of course, I knew that already. But as I ease my way ever so carefully back into the work scene, the greatest source of stress has come from home. My lovely refuge of 15 months is no more.

From the informal polling I’ve done recently, I assume that if you have, or have had, or once were a nine year old boy, you pretty much know what I’m talking about.

Actually, that may not be fair. There are plenty of lovely nine year old boys. Sadly, mine is not one of them at the moment and a number of people I’ve spoken to seem to have had or are having a similar experience.

Which experience exactly? Well, in our case, two calls home from two different teachers two days in a row. Disruption of class. Arguing with the teacher without backing down. And now something that is for the moment a mystery but will, I fear, turn out to be something equally serious when the teacher and I do finally speak.

This all follows on from last year’s final report card which now appears to have been only an indicator of problems to come, though at the time seemed pretty serious and worthy of the consequences meted out (no activities during the week, parent-imposed homework).

So, now he’s off the school soccer team and grounded for a week. But I have this dreadful premonition (based on what others’ experiences have been and this mystery call I’m expecting) that this is only the beginning.

And then what?

How many more consequences can we dream up?

And why can’t he just be a nice boy who behaves and gets to do fun things?

We are very close, the boy and I, but this might be part of the problem. I think our closeness has given him the impression that he is part of the parenting team. That we are a team. When what he needs to see is that my husband and I are the team, the team that is responsible for teaching him the way to be in the world. We love him but parental love is about the hard decisions made for the greater good. And I’ve been too forgiving and too easy up till now. And look where that got us.

My husband has been trying to tell me this for years. At first, I thought he was too harsh. I thought I understood my son and what he needed. But now I see what I didn’t see before. The error of my ways. My hand in the problem.

It’s hard to turn back 9 years of damaging leniency, for him obviously but also for me.

I doubt myself.

I feel terrible.

I can’t think about anything else.

It’s hard to write (so I’m giving in and writing about the problem at hand).

I have tortured dreams about him, his teachers and, for some reason, oil falling apocalyptically from the sky.

Even worse, he’s a good little manipulator. He grips his head and tells me I can’t imagine the pressure he feels. He says he doesn’t know why he does it. He looks at me with big eyes and says maybe he should go to a psychologist. I’ve taken him, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with him, nothing a little discipline won’t fix. Quite simply, he wants to do what he feels like doing. He’s impulsive and he’s had no incentive until now to curb those impulses. He’s smart but his intelligence is misplaced. I wish he’d use his powers for good instead of evil.

At this moment, I’m sitting in a local coffee shop on a rainy Saturday while he and two fellow Navy Cadets stand in the grocery store next door raising money for their cause. It’s a long day. They’re on their feet for eight hours, smiling and saying little more than “Thank you sir, thank you ma’am” and representing the Navy. I’m hoping some of the respect and discipline of that institution will rub off and make a difference.

In the meantime, I’m shaking from caffeine, frustration and anticipation of the showdown to come, and wishing that I could have instead made the most of what should have been a perfect, relaxing writing day.

Kids!

Meet my Inner Superhero

image courtesy of chicagonow.com

When my son was ready to go to daycare, he started a few days a week until he got used to it. I waited until he was ready to go for the full week before I returned to work.

I didn’t send him away to sleepover camp until he was sure he could do it. And he didn’t go for a full month session until he told me he wanted to.

I have always waited until he is ready to take the next step toward freedom. I have never pushed him out of the nest before I was sure he could fly.

Until now. Yesterday was his first day in grade 4. My husband and I decided that, rather than letting him take the bus on his first day, we would drive him. Good thing we did. No one told us, but the bus no longer comes to get him. At nine years old, and at 1.2 km from the school, he is considered old enough to walk alone, through downtown, past some pretty dangerous characters and intersections. The powers that be at the bus authority never told us this. The school didn’t warn us. We found out because he was told he couldn’t get on the bus to go to his afterschool program yesterday.

You would think that sending a kid to wander the streets alone would be a decision for parents to make. But you’d be wrong.

I may have sounded a bit curt when the school called and told me my options are to make him walk or to drive him. The latter seems a huge step backward considering kids start travelling to school alone on the bus in kindergarten; why would I start driving him now? And the former, well, obviously I’m not too happy about how that has been handled. The bus association could have sent a letter. Or the school. There are Walking School Bus groups at other schools; given enough notice, the parents could have organized something.

With no time to come up with alternatives, I walked my son half the distance this morning, then sent him on his less-than-merry way. I assured him he was ready for this. He didn’t agree. I stood and watched guiltily as he crossed the street and rounded the corner out of sight. I was pretty sure he would make it to school safely from that point but I hated watching him go when he didn’t feel ready.

I was feeling like the worst parent in the world and second-guessing my decision not to walk him the whole way when I recognized two kids approaching. Their mothers were walking behind them and at first I thought, “I bet those mothers are walking all the way to school with their kids. They must be better mothers than me.”

But then my long-lost inner superhero slapped me upside the head. In an uncharacteristically extroverted move, I waved them down, introduced myself and asked if my son could walk with them in the future. The mothers were thrilled; they had had the same nasty surprise and were also wondering how to find a sustainable solution. So, from now on, their kids will walk to our house and I will help all three cross the first busy street, just around the corner, then they will walk together and I will head to work.

It’s win-win all around.

Now I’m off to use my heroic superpowers on the school and the bus authority.