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Category: end of high school

a sigh like no other

i feel it from deep down inside my lungs. from the bottom of my rapid-beating heart. from the tips of all my limbs. i think i even feel it from my bum.

the sigh of not just summer’s launch, but a sigh that’s never been.

here we are, the clock ticking toward the holy hour when the school bell will last clang, when my fourth grader will leave his little school, the high schooler already no longer a high schooler.

these are the first few hours of pure summer oxygen. when all the cares, at last, are gone. when the summer lies ahead, no need to rush from bed in mornings, no need to turn out lights at 9 or even 10 at night. no need, gosh darn it, to stir and cook and put square meals on plates. we can choose, if we want, to slice a watermelon and call it dinner.

summer is the season of so many choices.

and this summer, this holy blessed summer, is the summer in which i can chart–as if a meteorologist tracking storms or humidity–the pressure lifting like a swiftly-rising puffy cloud, the pressure evaporated, gone.

no college essays due. no dabbling with the SAT study guide. no memorizing state capitals and abbreviations. (it’s darn-near comic, often here, having two boys with feet so far apart, one in elementary world and the other all the way to college.)

and this holy blessed summer, i don’t even have to worry about the bus for camp racing by before we’re ready. camp at our house this summer consists of a company of two: one’s the counselor, one’s the camper.

my college-bound boy will spend the summer days, or at least my work days, on adventures with his little bro. they’ve picked a town-and-country theme (or at least the older one picked it, the little one isn’t big on any theme that’s absent a ball and ballfield). the big boy will teach the little one all the things a boy should know: how to bait a fish hook, how to use a compass, how to travel on the “el” train. he’ll teach him how to cook a hot dog on a stick. and, perhaps, how to bench press, oh, 30 pounds.

i had no forms to fill out for this summer. no tetanus shots come due.

i might as well toss all alarm clocks. and wrist watches while we’re at it.

we are running without rigors of where to be when.

we are, for the first and perhaps the last time, this summer exploring what it means to be without a long list of must-get-dones.

we are letting brothers be brothers. we are letting boys be boys.

we are, so help me, going barefoot. making ice cream. picking berries. watching clouds go passing by.

we’ve earned this respite from the madness. and i am claiming every ounce of it.

so many saturday mornings we’ve been jarred awake by alarms telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we must be dressed, be out the door.

i’ve whispered, sighed, moaned, “this is crazy, this is no way to live.” as i’ve watched myself mad-dash from here to there to everywhere.

and this is the summer when the billboard in my head reads one simple word: SAVOR.

savor slumped shoulders, the load finally slid off, the back-tightening worries, gone.

savor screen door slapping. savor breeze blowing through the porch. savor fireflies. savor whispers on the front stoop till the moon is high above.

savor being together with both boys, the heartbeats of my life, my loves.

savor oars swooshing through the water. savor sand between the toes. savor tomatoes sliced and salted. savor peach juice dripping down my chin.

savor all it took to get us here. savor that we’ve made it. savor two boys who both consider it a blessing to spend the summer bumming ‘round together.

savor nights without homework, and mornings without racing, rushing, panting, shrieking.

savor every blessed drop.

it’s time to sigh the deepest sigh. it won’t last forever.

and just how do you plan to spend your summer’s vacation? what’s on your wish list of summer joys?

my little one (up above) asked last night if he got “special breakfast” since it was the last day of school. why, of course. out came the red “you are special today” plate, and the turkey bacon and the pancakes with sliced peaches and maple syrup. that little guy is playing in the little league world series this weekend. game one’s tonight, unless the rains don’t stop. games two and three come saturday and sunday, all three played out in an idyllic little ballpark here in town, a place that’s a throwback in time, with dugouts and a flagpole and a snack shack where hot dogs are $1.25, and rice krispie treats are just a quarter, and brownies too, all made by a woman with her hair twisted in a bun atop her head, a woman named bonnie who hovers over the place as if a mother hen. it’s a place with an old-time scoreboard just like the one at wrigley field, with tin numbered squares, carted out beyond the cyclone fence by little kids pulling a red radio flyer wagon, who try inning after inning to keep track of all the runs. not a bad way to start the summer, playing it like a scene from some old-fashioned movie, kids on a playlot, slugging, sliding, pitching, catching for the world series trophy. we got lucky this year, and my little slugger found himself on a team with true all-stars, the kinda kids whose names will be whispered around town for years to come. we are going along for the ride. and some ride it is…..some start to summer, indeed.

valedictory

absolutely, and without debate, there has been in our house one recurring theme in the chapter called “high school.”

it would be that phenomenon in which light shines from under the crack of the bedroom door till 3, then 4, and sometimes, ’round 5 (A!M! lest we be unclear), when the first rays of sun begin to dance amid the plugged-in watts of the desk lamp.

and even then there is no clicking off that fool light.

it is a cultural oddity that pulls the grownups out of bed, groggy, at wit’s end, wondering when, oh when, will this cruel and unusual punishment come screeching to an end.

you can stand at said bedroom door, and plea, and scrunch your face, and beg for mercy: “honey, PLEASE, go to bed.”

but no, the typing continues. the boy is hard at work. pounding thoughts, meeting deadlines.

and you, poor grownup, tired grownup, grownup who will wobble through the whole next day under cloak of stupor, you will grow accustomed to this high-school theme: the all-nighter that would not end.

and so, as if a 21-barrel salute to the end of that sweet sad sorry sobering chapter, the boy i love declared somewhere deep inside that he’d go out as he’d carried on all along: all-nighter on the last night of high school.

why, had you thought otherwise? had you fooled yourself into thinking this ONE time that ol’ eight-page paper would be typed, stapled, turned in one sweet minute before the schoolbell clanged time-out, game’s-end?

and so it was, after weeks and weeks of dropping hints (nabokov? checked in with nabokov any time recently?), the dear boy, breaths away from graduation, sat down at 9th hour to begin to type. to see how close he’d come to driving mama over the brink, into the seas of madness saved for those who set expectations foolish high.

and as if to amp the fun, he retreated from his room, settled in full view, just off the kitchen, where i could watch the lines unfold, where i could watch him type his way toward high school conclusion.

look ma, he seemed to type, i can dash off eight pages while you polish off your nighttime bowl of popped and fluffy corn. i can squeak in under the wire, while you witness the whole event.

alas, i could not stay awake past page five. and so i climbed to bed, tossed and drifted to a foggy-not-yet-sleeping place.

i had implored, “wake me at the end, i want to be there for the final period of high school.”

and so, when at 11:53 he wandered by the precipice of my mattress, stood ever still, and whispered, “hey mom,” i barely startled. just rolled over and uttered, “huh?”

could i give it all a read, he wondered, this paper that dissected four plays by nabokov, this paper due third period on the last half day of high school?

without thought or grumble, i ripped back the sheet, pointed my stiff self toward the stairs and down i climbed. i read, i turned small letters into caps, i marveled (or at least i think i did, as sleep was clearly fogging up my eyes and brain).

i slapped the boy upon the back, returned to stairs and up to slumber.

when i awoke this morn, i found the eight pages, printed out, in a folder, tucked one last time in backpack. and off my boy loped, high school all wrapped up in one last all-nighter.

so this is it, the hardest chapter yet, now writ.

the boy who started high school with an undetected fracture straight across his thigh bone, the boy who set out to get straight As, to take the hardest classes offered, he struggled and survived. he learned much, and so did i.

he set out to test his arc of limitations, as emerson once challenged. and hanging on the post beside his bed, five medals, bronze to gold. though the silver that he wanted never came.

he found three close friends, in a sea of 1100. and a boat full of “brothers.”

he has cried in my arms, and raised his fist in triumph.

in the end, there will be no valedictory speech, no fireworks to light the sky.

but in past weeks there have trickled in emails from teachers, tracing back to freshman year, remarking on what a kid he is, and how much he will be missed.

in the end, i’ve realized, it is the typed words from souls who’ve earned his respect over long semesters, over years, that constitute the prize of prizes.

the boy i love, the boy inclined to type all night, he’s triumphed in the end. and i could not be more proud.
nor love him any wilder.

here’s to a summer of no worries, no tests, no papers.

just joy and laughter, and the sweet glory of the journey shared, straight up to the last sure dot on the page.

–the end, sweet will, the end–

this one’s mostly just to record the moment, lest anyone ever debate that the end of high school quietly lulled to closure. there are souls all around this time of year, wrapping up chapters hard and not-so-hard. it is the time of year for looking back, then launching forward. to ends that mark beginnings. tell me what headlines your end of schoolyear, start of summer this time round?

that was fast

and there it was.

like that.

in yesterday’s pile of mail. just lying there, that short string of words, taunting me, teasing me, jolting me into the countdown of truth.

class of 2011. g-g-graduation party?

oh my God, i gasped.

now, i’d done that math. long long ago. maybe when still in the womb, in line with all my other fascinations with numbers (i tend to be moored by arithmetic, by adding, subtracting, defining my life in crisp-lined equations), i likely leapt forward in time, determined the points in my unborn’s unfurling story, first uttered the short string of digits, the 2 and the 0 and the pert pair of 1s. barely made sense, that sum of indivisible, indiscernible, parts.

for a good long while, through preschool and early-on years, through multiplication tables and kickball and the odd social fumblings of middle school, it’s just a blurry far-off posting there on the distant horizon, an odd combination you are called to conjure once in a while.

ah, but once your firstborn’s in high school, of course, they fling that digital string at you page after page, form after form, invoice after invoice. why it becomes a part of your child’s identity. he is 2011xxxx in their books.

and i suppose, vaguely, subliminally, ever-rising in consciousness, i’ve started to realize the punch in those numbers.

they are not merely computer-generated ink spurts. they whisper, ever louder, the undeniable truth: kid’s leaving, and here’s the date of departure.

egad.

oh, i’ve started to feel the rumblings. all this talk about college. all this mail that comes day after day. nice mail, fine mail, mail from places that want to harbor my boy.

but graduation party?

someone grab me a stool.

are we r-r-ready for that?

so there i stood in that way that we sometimes do, trying to get my eyeballs to clear out the fuzz, make sure i was seeing this right, not being fooled by some optical wizardry. downright insisted the brain part of the reading department kick into gear, try wrapping its neurons around the letters before me, make some sense of the fast-forward illusion.

hmm, seems to be not a ruse but the real, actual fact. complete with a date, and a comma besides.

coulda logged it onto the calendar. if i had one. for 2011, for cryin’ out loud. geez, i’m just breakin’ in this one, the one with the 0 at the end, instead of two 0s, a fine pair of eyeballs, peering out from the spot in the middle.

while i was busy, um, swallowing all this numerical befuddlement, the little one ran to my side. read round my elbow.

piped up, matter-of-factly, “this is how it will be, dad at work. just you and me.”

oy.

so it might be.

(lord knows, it’s not that i have even a wisp of a twinge at the notion of going along, just me and the little one, it’s just the hollowness of a four-bedroom house in which some of the beds never are mussed. and the towels in the bathroom….oh, never mind…)

so, yes, we will spend the next 15 months seeing that date–june 5, 2011–begin to flash along the roadside like some neon number that refuses to run out of wattage, blinking brighter and louder till it takes over the screen.

and so it goes as we pass through this life, aiming toward targets once miles and eons away, then inching closer, somehow getting so close we can make out the zigs and the crags of the outline. count the hairs on its head.

more often than not, we are propped up along the way, made to adjust to that thing on the far-off horizon.

so i’ve been told, when it comes to this college thing: “oh you’ll be ready, all right. your kid will make you so crazy you’ll cannonball him right out the door. toss the trunks onto the sidewalk, plunking behind him.”

hmm. not yet.

to this day, at nearly the midpoint of second semester junior year, that college-bound kid remains, solidly, squarely, among the most delightful lights in my day, he charms me. entertains me. teaches me, too. he makes me laugh so hard i swear i’ll embarrass myself one of these outbursts. says things that keep me awake thinking at night, not because they’re disturbing, but because they hold so much truth, so much wisdom, and like marrow of bone, i need to suck on it all a good long while to extract every speck of its essence.

so, no, not yet. i am not remotely ready.

and thus, the words on the slip of paper wholly stunned me, stopped me.

i felt the lightning bolt of truth shake through my body, down my arms, into my wrists, onto the tips of my fingers.

and there was the little one, right by my side. taking it all matter-of-factly.

life has a knack for sneaking up on you. and here, at this point on the map, i am noticing all around me, seeing the landscape blur out the window.

we seem to have picked up speed somewhere along here. not long ago, we struggled to learn to pedal a bike, swing a bat, spend the whole night in a tent despite the raccoon that scratched at the flap.

and, kaboom, here we are, getting a notice, high school graduation party. june 5, 2011. mark it, please, on the calendar.

gulp.

that was fast.

what sorts of chapters have crept up on you lately? how did it feel once you arrived? what pangs do you still harbor? or, are you, like me, still peering at that post down the way, teetering bravely, hoping not to topple?