Another Path

Can I ask you to refrain from THE question when you see me? I know it is standard and I know it is exciting and victorious for most of you, but for me it is a different scene altogether and though I suspect I am not alone, in the circles in which I travel, it is unheard of.

I am going to ask you to please stop asking me what college my twin seniors are planning to attend. They are not. Yes, I know this is the norm. I lived it through my first three older sons. We made the trips and tours, agonized over choices, applied for scholarships, critiqued the dining halls, and struggled through the SAT’s. It was all one rite of passage after another and this was all I knew so it felt normal and in sequence. But, that is not how it is going this time.

Well, one of my twins, DID submit applications, grueling as that was. And he was actually accepted by a pretty solid state school in North Carolina. He got the team cap and the shirt to go with it in fact and we did tour there twice. All seemed good except for his frustrating disinterest in majors and such. He was taken with their ROTC program, but in the end, that was just not enough. So, the final school acceptance day of May 1, 2017 has come and gone with no response from him. Instead, he has been wooed and cajoled by the slickest of Army recruiters over and over here, there and everywhere. He ate it up and of course, there must have been something inside of him that these soldiers spoke to because their enticements, waving of money, glory, and fame met with a hook already looking for that big fish. They found a match made in heaven in a smart, smiling, responsible kid who had already been enamored with Civil Air Patrol and its uniforms, flight schools, and MRE meals since sixth grade. Click! He was in and he leaves for basic training in less than three months determined to be an MP!

Make no mistake. I have tried everything humanly possible to turn that train around. I have begged, pleaded, written, shared, enticed, and never have I made one single chink in this armor, nor have his brothers or father. The irony of my son answering to THIS current Commander in Chief of the United States is absolutely more than I can fathom. As I write about this, my stomach still turns, the dread looms and my heart races. I am not quite sure how I will survive the day he leaves for an army that I disdain. If he does decide to go to the NC college after all, someday following the military, he will in fact, have to reapply. It doesn’t seem like a likely thread to me.

And then, there is his twin, also enamored with anything military for a long time. He too began donning cammo garb in sixth grade and was the head honcho of all neighborhood Airsoft wars with our trash cans, gutters, cars, etc, having dings to prove the warfare. To his credit he also became extremely successful in all related things including Search and Rescue, Emergency Medical Tech, severe weather rescues, CPR in several cases recently where he saved lives, and more. Of his own volition, he has attended EMT classes every day after school for this entire year. We have seen little of this son over this last year, because he found his passion in firefighting. He practically lives at the firehouse every chance he gets (or at least that is where he has us believing he is).

There have been real communication gaps with this son of ours and it has more often than not, left me in tears. He has never preferred to spend time with us, and much to our chagrin he rarely shows up for paid work and thus, never has any money. To my complete Yankee horror, he took up “dipping” apparently “years ago” and has a wad inside his lip often! I find this completely repulsive and of course a hideous health threat and yet, there are those dozens of empty tins in his room. How does he purchase these without money?

Suffice to say, this son of ours has literally hated every single moment of every single day in school for 14 years. Well, okay perhaps not in those early years at Montessori when he “chose his work” and climbed structures and zip lines. No telling him how smart he was, helping him, tutoring him, medicating him, changing schools/teachers/routines – NONE of it made one bit of difference. So the fact that in 16 days it will be over seems to mean nothing more to him than it being OVER. He has not been issued a cap and gown because he owes the school money and he does not care. “Walking” at graduation means nothing and he says he just wants the piece of paper that says “it’s over.”

As parents we often say we learn from our children and this could not be truer for me than during this last go round of raising sons. I will not delude you or myself by saying I am better for it or I have learned some good stuff, because most of my heart has broken so many times in the thousands of emails back and forth to teachers, that I don’t think it is repairable. And I often told myself that this was not MY journey to take, but theirs.

In the end, I happen to know that these two fine young men will rise above and make a difference in whatever they do. They have the skills and the wisdom to save lives and to rescue when rescue is needed without the emotion and passion that I lean on and would be an obstacle, if you were to depend on me to save your life. They have chosen a very different path than most and I am still struggling with it to be honest. I can’t stop comparing and your Facebook announcements of the acceptances to fine colleges sting deeply. I do not blame you or want you to stop or even edit your successes, it’s just a new world for me to see those who started preschool with my sons go in the traditional and likely successful paths I’d hoped for too.

Who’s to say what is good, better, or best? I hope that I have raised kind hearts and that they will stay connected to their family, but I cannot even predict that. I have done my best under less than optimal circumstances. And at that candlelight pre-graduations service the other night, I shed tears throughout as I was so deeply moved. My sons scoffed some and slept some, which dug deep into my core. I have loved them both with all my heart and soul and always will and in the end, maybe I really did need to learn that not all paths use the same GPS. Some drivers prefer to use no map at all and to find their own way.

So thank you for not asking what college my kids will be attending. Instead perhaps, ask them, “what comes next for you? Where are you headed next? What is your hope or your dream?” Thank you.

Sunhat and Crucifix

SunhatIMG_4360

I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow, but a few hours later around 3 am I awoke. My mind running an obsessive marathon took off with no return. I was reliving every damned moment of the worst night of my life despite it being 22 years ago! All of it, the helicopter ambulance, the life support, my crying and begging kids and my beloved toddler lying naked, gone but still being forced to breathe.

 

So, I got up at 4 am and sought comfort in the delusional thought that I might find something helpful. I went to the small old breakfront cabinet, opened it and reached around in the darkness. I grabbed his sunhat with the back flap to keep his neck from sunburn. I knocked two Matchbox cars on the floor. I also took the small wooden crucifix that the chaplain had laid next to his perfect, bald head through that night in hell. I took them into bed and snuggled into the hat. Of course it no longer has any scent of him but just of oldness and maybe dust. I gripped the crucifix tightly praying hard, desperate, pleading-for-sleep prayers. None of it worked.

 

I remained awake, tracing and chronicling the moments as if to torture myself eternally. And then, I whispered softly for the one-millionth time, “I’m so sorry. I’m so very, very sorry.” It has been my mantra for 22 years. I am desperately sorry, but it doesn’t make a bit of difference. I didn’t ever fall back asleep but it’s okay, because now it is the next day and the struggle is over for another whole year. This is now and that was then and I have had a had a decent cup of coffee so I move on again.

MAY ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR

Gregory with Dad

That very year, the days were the same as this one.

Monday, May 1, 1995 I packed and planned.

Pack baby’s clothes.

Pack his play wallet with expired credit cards

Pack the Matchbox cars

And the chunky book he cannot tear,

Pajamas, toothbrush, jacket, little jeans,

Sun hat, sunscreen for the beach.

We are headed to the Hamptons

Where we used to live.

Wave goodbye to the other three boys and their dad,

As they roll out of the driveway headed north.

 

Tuesday, May 2, 1995

It’s just the two of us.

Who dropped us off at the airport?

I can’t remember now.

It’s important but it doesn’t come to me.

I push the umbrella stroller through RDU

In the Southwest terminal.

He wants the noisy, battery operated truck

I decline and he fusses and cries.

I offer him some chips in exchange.

Doesn’t work but I don’t cave.

We board and he nurses to keep his ears from popping

He falls asleep in my arms as we fly.

We land at La Guardia and the Toyota Previa awaits.

We are so glad to be altogether again,

Nicholas, Peter, Oliver, Shep and now Gregory and me.

We stop at my grandparent’s cemetery because it is close.

Then, to my mother’s house in Queens

Which is difficult because, she is

And typically she is both mean to me

And clawing onto my neck in desperation.

We stop to visit Shep’s aunt in Long Island

Too many boys in a household without kids

Makes for too many nervous moments

And when one gets stung by a bee

There is a trip to the ER too.

I try to keep my cool, but not so well.

We stop to see my lifelong friend in Long Island

And eat a chicken dinner with her family

While Gregory puts his handprints on her wall mirrors.

We finally drive out to Southampton

Where we stay in a house a friend is loaning us

And it is right next to our old house.

Oddly, Gregory goes to sleep snuggled with his dad

In a bed away from mine.

Unusual behavior.

 

Wednesday, May 3, 1995

I want to read The Southampton Press

But kids won’t allow

I am frustrated and resentful

And fight for my rights laying on the sofa.

We eat lunch but Gregory keeps leaning over the deck rails

Which makes us all too anxious so we head inside.

Should have let him fall, in retrospect.

After lunch, we head into town

And stroll on Jobs Lane and Main Street

In Southampton.

We run into the mother of Peter’s Little League friend

His name was Rocco, but I can’t remember hers.

Gregory is trying to push Peter in the stroller

Because his bee stung leg hurts and we’re all giggling.

We head back to the house and try to decide whom to visit first

The choice of seeing newborn trumps all others

Including my best friend.

We will go to Westhampton after dinner.

Shep makes us spaghetti

Which covers Gregory’s blue and white outfit

So I change him into a yellow sweatsuit because it is chilly.

We head out to visit the newborn and her mom

Who I knew from La Leche League meetings.

Her baby nurses, my toddler wanders in and out

He nurses too for a bit but resumes his travels.

The new baby’s brothers and two of mine do same.

Gregory finds a swimming pool

And we all find hell on earth

That appears as a floating yellow sweatsuit.

 

Thursday May 4, 1995

Unplug

Hold tight in arms.

Beg

Scream

Sob

Fall to knees

Nothing.

It is done.

There will be no resurrection.

Six lives lost in the wind.

Unable to stand up.

Damned to repeat the days

Once a year

For eternity.

Though the agony lessens

And the torment subsides,

The unquenchable love remains.

It is the same four days

Once again.