Oh, my dear boy, how I wish I were better at things. And by things, tonight, I mean paper and deadlines. Weeks ago, I entered an appointment on my calendar titled Senior Parent Locker Decoration, for tonight. I felt proud I knew about the event long before it was scheduled to happen (considering I often figure out important events are happening days and sometimes hours before, this felt like a big deal!).
A couple of weeks passed and I started to think about how to approach the project. I knew I had a couple of big bins of photos of you from the day I learned I would become your mom until about first grade, also known as the beginning of my own personal digital era. I planned ahead and sorted through those physical, tangible memories of our early years together.
I found the photo capturing the moment your dad cried as he explained to me why he found each of the Winnie the Pooh characters, in stuffed form, and gifted them to me at Christmas. I wore overalls to accommodate my ever-so-slight pooch of a belly and our smiles had not yet created the lines we wear on our faces today. We didn’t really know how to love each other but we sure knew how to love you.
There is an image taken seconds after you arrived. You hadn’t yet been cleaned, you were partially wrapped in a hospital blanket as your eight pound, eight-ounce body rested on my bare chest, and your dad and I were looking down at you, our foreheads touching, as our hearts exploded with the purest love either of us had ever experienced.
Your cheeks were chubby back then, until they weren’t because of a botulism detour, and then they came back with a vengeance. Your hair was often too long, haircuts were erratic at best, but the spark and the mischief in your eyes made your too-small clothes and your probably not brushed teeth unnoticeable.
There aren’t as many photos during the rough year or so when your dad and I became ships passing in the night and ultimately decided to make separate ports our homes. We shared time with you and we each sometimes thought we would break during our days without you.
You and I became a team. I didn’t know what in the hell I was doing but I knew you mattered more than anything in the world so I had to find a way to parent you. I got fired shortly after learning the divorce, ending a short but love-filled (especially when it came to you) marriage, was final. Apparently it isn’t so good when you altogether stop completing tasks assigned by your employer.
In one image, I’m reading a book to you while we sat in a chair between our beds, in my old bedroom, at grandma and grandpa’s house. You slept in a family hand-me-down single while I slept in a nearby double bed. While it was never my plan to need to live with my parents, again, those 13 months were magical. You were able to receive the love and support your grandma and grandpa had to give, nearly daily, and I was able to receive the gift of unconditional love from my parents after I hit rock bottom.
Thanks to the grace and generosity of my friend Fawn, I found my way to a new job and, eventually, I climbed out of that very low period of time. From there we moved to an apartment in Wilsonville (I registered you for kindergarten four days before classes were to begin – remember – paperwork and I are not friends) and you announced on the second day of school that I didn’t need to park and walk you inside as I had done the day before. You were just fine to be dropped off with the other kids; I remained sure you desperately needed me even if you didn’t admit it.
A little more than a year later, Bill and I married (have you looked at the photos of you on that day? Goodness, you were handsome in that miniature tuxedo) and we soon transitioned to using a digital camera rather than the old-fashioned kind that required me to hand a canister to a random photo-department employee, trusting they would not ruin the images contained within.
I finished sorting through the precious printed photos after trying to select just a beautiful few to include in your locker collage and I ran out of paper.
We have oodles of digital images of you. Shot after shot after shot of your thinning face, your maturing smile, and your patience with your own personal paparazzi appear on the screen of the computer as I click through the memories. You thrived in school, with an instrument or a microphone in front of you, and on a variety of fields. I marveled at your strength and resilience. During the digital years I printed a few photos here and there, but, mostly, the documentation of the last dozen or so years of your life resides in our family computer.
About two weeks ago, I determined the solution to my digital problem was a photo printer. While I was shopping, I found blue and gold cardstock, glittery letters and numbers, a variety of kinds of photo paper, and a special kind of tape that would allow me to remove the photos once the festivities conclude. I had all of the supplies I needed. I arrived home, brought the box and the bags inside, and, then, I became paralyzed.
Part of me believes I froze as a method to slow down the clock. If photos weren’t ready, you couldn’t graduate. More likely, however, my lifelong struggle to keep up with what seem like the most basic of tasks is the cause. The practical part of me acknowledges there are some things I just don’t do well. Scrap-booking can be beautiful. I want to punch someone in the face at the thought of having to attempt such a thing myself. When I first learned skills similar to scrap-booking were needed, I should’ve asked for help.
Instead, I sat on my hands. Sometimes metaphorically and sometimes literally. I had time to make it all happen. If I had figured out early enough the magical printer would only print portions of the photos I selected, I could’ve sent the digital images elsewhere to be turned into paper that I could then tape to the Canby Cougar-colored cardstock, before taping the cardstock to your locker. I didn’t set it up until today.
The closer the date, the more I thought about how whatever I did, it wouldn’t measure up. I don’t often regress to the unsure 21-year-old I was when you were born but that’s where I am tonight. The other parents were/are more prepared to raise their kids, I tell myself. Your pediatrician who wrote, “okay parenting, considering mother’s age” in your chart was right. The mature, prepared parents put their kids first, always, and would never leave such an important project until the last minute. I’m not grownup enough to have a child of my own.
Nevertheless, you are mine. We’re going on nearly 18 years of learning as we go, nearly 18 years of you teaching me how to love, and nearly 18 years of doing the best we can. Because, really, what else is there?
I may never find the combination of words that will adequately describe to you the depth and breadth of your imprint on my soul. I hope, however, you feel it every day of your life. You make me a better human. You make me want to try to learn to master paper and deadlines.
You also make me want to tell the truth about the fact that sometimes stuff just doesn’t come together. Often, maybe always, stuff isn’t perfect. I trip. I fail. I feel snot dangle from my nose and hit my chin as I cry. I let people down. I’m not enough. And all of the struggles, all of the worries, all of the imperfections, these are what makes me human.
I hope I’ll look back on this night and laugh about how catastrophic it felt to not meet expectations (I’m aware we’re talking about decorating a locker, not foraging for food for dinner, thank goodness) I’ll remember that my best is good enough, even if it looks like such a disaster that my husband, upon arriving home from a baseball game and unaware of my evening of drama, comments, “kind of messy in here.”
And I hope the next time you trip, fail, and/or cry the kind of cry that results in inch-long snot threads, you also find a way to laugh before telling the story in hopes that someone else out in the world will benefit from knowing they aren’t alone.
With all of my love,