So I’m in the middle of writing a piece for Mommy Track’d. And it’s a fine piece. It’s nice. It’s friendly. Very amusing. Haha! But basically I’m writing on automatic with a giant crick in my neck, because the real story is, I’m leaving town tomorrow. I’m leaving town for ten days. My two boys are still on vacation from school, so they’ll have two days completely on their own, then next week, when they go back to school, they’ll be making their own breakfasts and making their own school lunches, and locking up the house in the morning (because their dad leaves for work before they leave for school) and returning home to an empty house (because their dad doesn’t get home until after six).
I’m saying this in a very measured, calm tone, aren’t I? However, inside my head there is small, insistent voice, no not a small voice at all, really a screaming kind of voice, screaming something like this: THEY WON’T EAT ANY VEGETABLES THEY WON’T EAT ONE PIECE OF FRUIT THEY WILL LEAVE THE HOUSE UNLOCKED ALL DAY LONG THE BACK DOOR WILL BE WIDE OPEN THEY WILL SPEND NINE HOURS IN FRONT OF THE COMPUTER THEY WON’T EAT BREAKFAST THEY WON’T EVER CLEAN ONE DISH EVER THE CRISPER DRAWER IN THE REFRIGERATOR WILL BE UNTOUCHED FOR TEN DAYS THEY WON’T LOOK BOTH WAYS WHEN THEY CROSS THE STREET THEY’LL RIDE THEIR BIKES IN THE DARK. They will wander out into oncoming traffic. Someone will jump off something and crack open a head. They will be caught in gang cross-fire. They will stay up every night until three a.m. They will forget to turn in all their homework assignments. They’ll forget to water my lettuce garden. They will get lost, They will somehow, explode into flames. They will somehow cause the house to explode into flames. They will swallow broken glass. And so on, and so on.
I know, I know, I’m the one who writes adamantly and lectures vociferously about how we need to give our kids the tools to be independent people. And we do! By golly. But I am usually giving them those tools while I am somewhere fairly close by, looking on from a safe distance. Feeling that I am somehow controlling everything. Steering them in the right direction. But at some point, they need to test their mad skills, right?
And perhaps, just perhaps it is all in my mind that my very presence is totally responsible for keeping them alive every moment of the day. I mean, when my youngest rode his bike for the first time to our local rec center pool, I didn’t tell him I was secretly imagining a bike accident, a scary stranger, a freak diving board mishap. And when he returned with his wet towel casually draped over his bike, he was just so happy. He had found his way there and back again, he was responsible for his own entertainment and his own self for a few hours. And now he rides his bike to school every day. My boys have been given some of the tools to be independent, but in baby-step increments, one tool at a time.
Okay, my oldest son has been known to walk out the front door, leaving the back door wide open. For a whole day. And we do not live in Mayberry. But he needs to learn, right? It’s true, I may return from my trip and find both my boys emaciated, atrophied in front of the computer, sitting in a pile of their own waste. But they usually eat when they’re hungry, and if I put out a bowl of clementines, the clementines will be devoured.
With their mom out of the way, I really do think my boys will step up to the plate. And of course their dad doesn’t work far from home, and they can always reach him if anything comes up. But I’ll still attempt to alleviate my tortured mind by writing them each a large note, to help them manage their schedule and remind them of a few things. Thursday, make lunch for yourself and your brother. Walk your brother to his tennis lesson, walk to Dad’s office when the lesson’s over, get a ride home from Dad. Friday, spend the day with your cousin, who is thankfully a responsible thirty-three-year-old and has offered to hang out with you and make sure you don’t starve. Saturday, take out the garbage, the compost, the recycling. Eat a vegetable. Be nice to your Dad. Be nice to your brother. Empty the dishwasher. Be grateful we have a dishwasher. Make something nice to eat for your dad. Be grateful you have a dad who lives at home and you don’t have to be come home to an empty house every day. Practice your cello. And that means scales, too. Make your beds. Pick up that pile of crap that has accumulated on the sofa, the table, the floor. Be polite on the telephone. With great freedom comes great responsibility, right? And maybe, when I return, I’ll find my load a little lighter, knowing that both my boys are taking a little more responsibility for themselves and our family. Be nice to each other. Clean your room. And know that I miss you and will be back soon to make you great big piles of vegetables.