Spuds returns for a week long spring break. He will be surprised to find that his warped bathroom floor has been replaced and a new mattress for his bed has been purchased. A clothing hamper has been placed in the bathroom although I'd be surprised if either kid will know what to do with it, particularly when there's a perfectly good floor. I am thrilled that the appearance of the bedroom is so improved, although for Spuds I imagine it will just be a tiny blip on the radar. He is sweating this week as sophomores at his school are expected to complete moderation, which like declaring a major but way more rigorous. Spuds' girlfriend will be staying with us. He warns me that the girl has tattoos and a pierced nostril. I'm OK with tattoos, if they are artful (unlike my eldest's crude tats which might as well spell out “I was drunk.”) but I can't look at a nose ring without thinking about the inner portion being inevitably crusty with dry snot. I tell Spuds to make her take hers out. He says she can't because it will close up to which I insensitively respond “Boo hoo hoo.” I tell him to send me a picture of this girl for my own psychic preparation. I receive from him a picture of Snoop, from The Wire.
Joe College graduates next month. He calls and I can tell he's down. He is under pressure to complete all of his school work. I don't know quite what his post-graduation plans are and I suspect that he doesn't either. He's lived in the same dorm for four years, the last dealing, as an RA, with lots of drama. It's not my place now to make it right, and as confident as I am that the glib smart lad will land on his feet (even if it's via his room in our basement for a while) I remember the sense of obligation to prove yourself and make something of your life that the diploma confers.
Mount Washington, after nearly two years of beigeness, is green, thanks to the bit of rain. I round the bend from the house every morning and there is a giant rock covered with emerald moss, brilliant in the early sun. The hills are flecked with lupine and larkspur. I try to take pictures, juggling Iphone and dog lead but inevitably they suck, failing to capture the perfection of light and color. I discover tiny streets and ridges that, even after over twenty years, are new to me. Sometimes I avoid the school. It reminds me that my days of active and constant mothering are over and that I've yet to fully conquer the struggle to find purposeness, post empty nest. Other days it is pleasant to zig zag through the arriving throngs.
A little girl carries a large and unidentifiable school project. It is colorful and the base is a square of real grass. “Did you make that?” She nods shyly. “That's remarkable,” I blather on. She is mortified that this strange lady with dark glasses and giant headphones and a whinging dog (Opie is afraid of children and pretty much her own shadow) is actually speaking to her in front of her classmates. I can't leave well enough alone though and desperate to make the interaction more satisfactory for the child, “I'm sure it will be the best one in the class.” Though I know from our own experience that the airy fairy Mount Washington School doesn't put a lot of stock into competition. The little girl, I'm sure, prays for the concrete to swallow her, but Dad beams. I too, took a lot of pride in the school projects that I shepherded, particularly the ones I completed pretty much by myself without the clumsy kids mucking them up.
A father ushers his son through the arriving kids. The boy has being crying, his freckled little face a rictus of tragedy. Perhaps it's a lunch left at home or a canceled play date. I remember the young child's pendulum swing from grief to elation. And it used to be that a hug and kiss from Mom or Dad is enough to make most bad things better. My kids' angst now has so much more gravitas and they only let me kiss and hug them if I haven't seen them in a while, and even this is grudging.
As I traipse through Mount Washington, where I've lived longer than anywhere else in my life. I feel lucky every day to have landed in this place. My own parents have been gone now for a long time. I wonder if either ever experienced the same sweet solitude and satisfaction that grace my morning walks. I hope so but sadly, suspect not. Despite the contentiousness of my relationships with Mom and Dad, I still feel their love. My dad is my work voice. He taught me how to run a business. No one taught him. My mom is the domestic voice. She taught me to bring a hostess gift and write a thank- you note.
My kids, gun to heads, write thank-you notes, using the stamped, addressed stationary I've provided. They think it's silly and anachronistic. I doubt if it's a habit they'll maintain when they're further out of my orbit. I've accepted now, at least to some extent, that both are on their own path now and I will be less privy to their triumphs and struggles. The days of hugs and kisses are over. For my birthday, Spuds writes to me that when he is faced with a dilemma he tries to figure out what I would do. I'm not sure how prudent this is but somehow it makes up for the surcease of hugs and kisses.
Illustration by Josepf Herman-Sketch of family group with dog