"Don't Walk me In!"

HOPEspotters- be gentle with me. I’m tired. Today was a milestone morning. Ryan, my first born (14 y/o) left for his 8th grade trip. 60 hours away touring the state of Georgia with his classmates and some very saintly teacher chaperones. The itinerary would make a Navy Seal question personal stamina, but it is a long awaited “privilege” for the graduating middle school class. So today was the day and there was a mixed bag of emotions for both Ryan and me: anxiety, excitement, concern, joy. But at drop off time of 6:30 AM, we were just doing all we could to get there in one piece.

A disclaimer: I recognize my well prepared, well protected son was going on a school field trip and not leaving for Afghanistan. I get that. Really, I do.

Preparations for this trip began months ago and I’ve had off the charts anxiety every step of the way. My anxiety was really not at all rooted in Ryan’s safety or homesickness or anything other than, “Dear God, don’t let me miss a deadline, forget an essential item he is assigned to bring or do ANYTHING to mess this up.” That is the essential prayer of most middle school moms. It varies a little, but not much.

In the last week I have been scurrying around as if Ryan was going to Pyeongchang, driving the bus, with no possibility of communication or enduring any discomfort for 5 minutes. Yep, I fell in the trap. Guilty as charged. Helicopter Parent Buckley, reporting for duty.

Last night, Ryan and I packed together and proceeded to, of course, argue. “Why do I have to bring that?” “Why can’t I bring that?”  And the ever popular, “OH MY GOD, MOM!” Don’t even know why, but it was said A LOT.

So the school sent multiple messages for absolute clarity: DROP OFF IS 6:30 AM. FAILURE TO BE AT THE SCHOOL AT THIS TIME MAY RESULT IN YOUR EXECUTION. I exaggerate- but not much. Again, my primary goal was not to mess up any part of this for my beloved first born.

Ryan isn’t great at waking up. (Holy understatement) So I spent the night waking up every hour on the hour making sure I wasn’t late in working to get him up and in the shower (yes, I do, in fact, keep my helicopter in the backyard. Thanks for asking). When my alarm finally went off at 5:20 AM, I was up and working on the traveler. Lights ON! Shower ON!

And remarkably, we were ready on time. While he got ready, I felt like I did some really incredible things. I changed out of pajamas. I put on a bra. I brushed my teeth AND put my hair in a ponytail. I double checked that everything was packed and labeled his bags with his name. Still don’t know why the Mother of the Year award givers haven’t come to find me today. But, whatever…

We got in the car and it was a lot like a regular morning: Ryan on his phone and me listening to sports radio. Typically, a morning like this would conclude with me pulling into the carpool lane and with attention to alacrity, Ryan would jump out of the passenger seat, get his backpack from the back seat and say goodbye while heading into school.

Today, however, was a milestone day and I could sense the specialness. So when I arrived at the school, in the cold dark, at 6:20, I made some observations.

The first thing I observed was somewhat shocking. As I got closer to the front door and observed parents getting out to help their student with luggage, I saw many mothers IN OUTFITS. They were dressed. And I think they were wearing makeup! Who are these magic people? Did I mention it was 6:20 AM? Were they leaving here to appear on the TODAY show? Perhaps they don’t appreciate the subtle, yet thrilling, art of driving in the dark with one eye glued shut from yesterday’s mascara. This was shocking to me. I was reeling. Was it not enough that I put on yoga pants AND A BRA? Serious, M.Fing overachievers.

The next thing I observed was that to which I paid close attention. This drop off wasn’t like regular carpool with the school resource officer waving you on so as not to create delay. “Eject your student and proceed, please.” And I am nothing if not a rule follower! But what I watched in the cars that went before me was an undeniable pattern: student AND parent left the car. Parent handed luggage to student, student hugged parent, parent returned to car and the next in line was promoted.

I was not going to mess this up.

So when Ryan and I pulled up to the “departure slot” he got out of the car, and opened the back seat to get his bags. I put the car in park and walked around the front of the car to approach him. I extended my arms, ready to say, “have a great….”


And with speed that can only be compared to Usain Bolt, Ryan darted in the front door.

I stood there with arms outstretched for only a second, but I probably looked like Frankenstein. Given the hot fear that one could see in Ryan’s eyes, that must be true.

I messed it up. I messed it up.

And in the next second, God winked at me with the all the humor and irony that only God can deliver. Embarrassed, I dropped my arms and smoothed my jacket. I glanced into the windshield of the driver behind me and, of course, it was her. OF COURSE, it was her.

Who’s her? I don’t know her name. I’ve seen her one thousand times since Ryan was in kindergarten but I swear we’ve never met. She stood out to me on this morning because two weeks ago at the MANDATORY parent planning session for this trip, she asked a question. This anonymous woman raised her hand and asked, “When do the students get to pick their roommates or when will they know who they are rooming with?”

When this loving, probably tired, trying not to mess it up Mom asked this question, many of us looked at our feet. Oh my goodness. They chose roommates one month ago. That’s already decided. Doesn’t she know? Well, even I was aware of that.

And I swear I did NOT judge her - but I will confess her lack of knowledge on this point really made me feel better on the scale of “how much do I know about my tween?”   

So on this morning, in the cold, when I dropped my Frankenstein arms and caught her eye, I understood. This mothering of growing up kids thing is really hard. And sometimes awful. But always hard.

I drove home humbled. Profoundly humbled. And I prayed for the wisdom to let my son grow with grace and faith and not fear and white knuckles, which seems to be my approach. I’ve been blessed beyond measure with a son who seems to have a limitless future. My original mission was right in its simplicity: don’t mess this up.

So I came home in time to put my 11 year old son on the bus, who let me walk him RIGHT UP to the stairs and I said a silent prayer of gratitude for that. And then I got on the treadmill and soothed myself with the following knowledge:

Dear Ryan:

I am sorry I messed up the goodbye moment. Rookie mistake.

You left so quickly I didn’t get a chance to tell you that I wasn’t planning on actually walking you in. Even I know better than that.

But I need you to know this: I will ALWAYS “walk you in” because from the day you were swaddled and placed in my arms, we became a team. I really hope I’m not going to be one of those creepy boy moms (your aunt will make sure I’m not) but if you think for A SECOND that I am not with you every step you take, you are mistaken. More and more, I won’t physically be there, but I am in your heart and you are in mine.

I’ll walk you in to high school, to college, to your first job, to your wedding chapel, to your future. I will remember my place and I’ll keep my Frankenstein arms at my side, but be clear on this, my love, I will walk you in.

And tonight, when you are bleary eyed exhausted and put on your pajama pants, you will find a note in your pocket. It says, “Hope you are having a great time. I love you. Mom.”

You can roll your eyes all you want. I’ve walked you in.

Peace out, Mamas. I think today reminded me, if nothing else, you CAN'T mess this up because there really is no way to do it “right”. Just do it with love.