Spuds is driving quite well and I've canceled the order for the dashboard defibrillator. I even let Mr. Learners Permit take the treacherous 110, now renamed, for an obscure reason and at considerable expense, The Arroyo Parkway. After a weekend of intense practice in the vicinity of the Glendale DMV Himself accompanies Spuds for the driving test. Unfortunately, the examiner discovers a blown turn signal bulb and the appointment is rescheduled for two weeks in the future. I can feel Spuds aching, like his brother before him, like me, to just get in the car and go. Wherever.
Spuds drives to school every morning. We've exhausted all of the non-filthy hip-hop material on his I-phone so I've taken to playing mine. He hasn't heard much REM and I play Murmur and remember a cassette I received in the mail nearly 30 years ago. It was labeled in my cousin's impossibly tiny script. I was living on Occidental Blvd. a block from the notorious Rampart Police division and right under the Hollywood freeway. I always remember it as the apartment where I first heard REM. I try to describe the sense of revelation to Spuds and I'm pleased that he likes the sound. Certain of my favorites like The Hold Steady and Jesse Malin are reviled by both of my children. I get that there is a certain distinctive vocal quality that they dislike. Conversely, the kids enjoy a more profane style of hip-hop than I can endure. But we understand each others' preferences. We make each other gifts of music that we would not necessarily listen to ourselves. I am happy that while our tastes diverge, my kids take after their parents and know that music is an essential nourishment and not a frivolous indulgence.
While we love that our kids adore music we are not above storming down to their basement lair in the middle of the night screaming “Turn that shit down!” More three a.m. rafter quaking is in store as Joe College is returning home after what was presumably a successful freshman year. Parents do not receive grade reports, only bills. Maybe they don't want us to fret about whether we're getting our money's worth. Nevertheless our big boy is undoubtedly looking forward to a summer of Netflix, cranking up our old vinyl records and partaking of a full refrigerator. I suspect the cast on the his arm, while beautifully illustrated, might be an impediment to his quest for gainful employment. This could result in a grim fate for all involved. Mom's office.
Spud's grudging labor of last summer yields this week a sale from a film he's archived. We'd put the kibosh on a number of Spud's summer possibilities for fiduciary reasons so we decide that the proceeds from the clip he found will generate a well worn-in first car. In 1974 my own dad traded film for my first ride, a 1967 Dodge Dart. Dad justified this with my work writing film descriptions. I hope Spuds loves his first car as much as I loved mine although I hope he is a better driver and way less stupid.
The grocery shopping and eating dynamic will change as I make the adjustments for the palate of our returning sophomore-to-be. I know the peculiar likes and dislikes of all three members of the nuclear family. If I make a casserole I only include a single ingredient that anyone dislikes so I can evoke the “You can pick it out” defense. I try not to include more than one taboo ingredient per entree so it is only when Spuds is dining elsewhere that I would prepare a dish that contains both raisins and olives. Some nights I prepare a casserole comprised of a starch, a vegetable and a protein combined with only a single ingredient that is found distasteful by any member of the family and nothing at all that would be reviled by two members. Other dinners are comprised of separate protein, starch and vegetable. If I've prepared a casserole Himself picks the ingredients apart and eats each component separately, starting with the food he least likes and culminating with his favorite. If I have prepared and carefully seasoned three unique dishes, Himself mashes everything together into a mound. We also have an issue with paper napkins being reused for days at a time.
When both of the kids are gone I sometimes prepare a sample empty nest dinner comprised of English muffins, a can of sardines and a sliced tomato. With one boy in college, and the other on the verge of driving and starting his senior year of high school, soon the empty next meals will be more frequent than the family ones. The more my fussy children are out in the world, the more they appreciate my cooking. This comforts me when I fret about their inevitable growing up and get wistful about the looming void. I will miss having the two of them under foot but there is an intimacy that defies distance. I know what they like to listen to and what they like to eat. I have them in my clenches but good. For the rest of their lives there will be foods and songs that will inevitably make them think of Mom.
I will not ever not be a mom. My challenge is to cope with the decreased requirement to physically mother. For twenty years I've played the mom card instead of chastising myself for poor progress in the self-actualizing department. I've written for as long as I can remember but not much has come of it. I complete the manuscript for a memoir back in September. I want editorial input and the friend I choose to grapple with the thing is unable to complete it. I begin to outline several stories during the waiting period but I am unable to get a fresh start on anything with the big project unfinished so I've essentially wasted eight months with a piss poor excuse. Impatient, I foist the book off on another friend who is an intimidatingly fine writer. I hear nothing for several weeks and then I get a brief e-mail stating that the book is “fantastic.” I respond confessing that his opinion has rendered me giddy. The terse answer to this is “It still needs a lot of work.”
I pick up the edited manuscript and if I didn't know that his overall opinion is favorable I'd be pretty devastated as notes like “cliche” and “saccharine” appear with embarrassing frequency. I accept however that these comments are apt and that indeed there is a lot of work ahead. But it's cool at least to know that I've actually got a large scale project that has been deemed worth more of my time. It takes me several weeks to muster up the courage to tell Himself that I've enrolled in a workshop on the presentation of personal essays before an audience. I am sheepish about confessing to wasting time and effort on what I imagine others perceive as a pipe dream that I should grow up and get over. I do have adolescent fantasies about MacArthur genius grants and how neat it would be for everyone who ever belittled me to learn that I'm a well regarded writer. But really I would be quite happy just to be able to call myself a writer. I can refer to myself as a mother and blather on about my great kids easily and with pride but it is very difficult for me to refer to myself as a writer without feeling like a poser asshole. One kid returns to college in a few months and the other is scheduled to fly the coop next year. I will always be a mother but as the demands grow less rigorous perhaps I'll have no excuse to also become what I wanted to be before.