I woke last Saturday morning to a wreckage in the living room, throw pillows spread all over the floor amongst shoes, backpacks, cell phones, an empty bag of potato chips, crumb filled plates, and two tall teenagers wrapped like two sleeping giants in sleeping bags on the floor. A shorter one, curled up like a baby wrapped in a blanket on the love seat, his head sinking into my freshly cleaned throw pillow, mouth wide open, took long deep-sleep breaths as a piercing ray of sunlight landed on his face. A tinge of motherly tenderness twisted like a tiny wire around my heart. I worried the light might wake him.
With dark mops of brown curly hair, the three pals look like brothers. If we refer to the Old Testament, in a way they are. One is Jewish, with parents from Tel Aviv who came to America to start a new life, the other, an American born Palestinian, his father a refugee who forged a life for himself in California after fleeing the war torn Middle East. On the other hand, my son, a quarter Jewish, knows only a little of his bloodline. His grandfather broke the Jewish lineage, when as a young dashing man, he married the 20-something blonde hair, blue-eyed beauty in his office, my son’s grandma. Yet, since he was expected to marry only a full-blooded Jewish woman, they waited until his own father died before they married.
Bleary-eyed, the disheveled threesome finally woke at 11 am. Clearing groggy throats, they folded blankets, rolled up sleeping bags, making their way to the kitchen table while I prepared homemade waffles one by one with our new waffle iron. This gave me ample time to enjoy the precious morning gift of catching up with their lives.
Yes, they were going to the winter formal. No, they won’t ask a girl, because the way it’s done is the girls ask them. The one who slept on the love seat has no worry of going to the prom alone, confident two girls will ask him. The other, with a sinking heart, slinks down into the seat. I know his crush. “What the heck”, I say, “ask her”. Blush. Smile. Deep voice giggles. “Yeah, maybe”, he says with a warm smile, his despair waning. I ask the two about about my son, the only way I’ll get girl information. They all giggle again. “Oh, this pretty girl is going to ask him”, one tells me. Oblivious to his charm, my son smiles — “whatever, we’re all going together anyway”.
With sinking heart, I remember what I most want to avoid– two of them will be graduating high school in June, my son one of them. I know this is the first leap away from me toward a life of his own.
The conversation switches to the upcoming high school musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. My son and one of these dear friends will play the Chinese immigrant characters, Ching Ho and Bun Foo, two mismatch-sized brothers working in New York saving money to send to their mother in Hong Kong.
Commiserating, they discuss their dreaded plans for the afternoon – going to the barbershop to get their hair shaved for the role. I feel a moment of panic, my son with hair like Elvis Presley hasn’t changed his hair style since his role as Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie the year before. Soon shaved will be that long wavy piece that sometimes falls on his forehead that I’m always tempted to brush back.
They get quiet for a moment as I deliver the first round of waffles, probably imagining going to school the next day with shaved heads, their brown locks falling to the barbershop floor.
The silence breaks when they discuss avoiding parody of their Chinese characters. They ponder, “it’s hard, after all, we’re not Chinese”.
I think of the recent blogs I’ve been reading on racism, diversity, Syrian refugees, the Twitter hashtags #Blacklivesmatter, #refugeeswelcome. It’s a complicated time for these kids.
Breakfast lasts a long time. I’m nourished by the unusual lingering.
Last night we went to the opening of Millie. Ching Ho and Bun Foo were a hit, their shaved heads perfect under bowl-like caps.
I met a mother in the lobby at the theater during intermission, her eyes swollen from crying all day. She sent her 19-year old daughter off on a 6-month trip volunteering around the world with a leading organization for youth.
She said something, with tears in her eyes, that touched my heart.
“I know even when she comes back, things will never be the same.”
In other words, she’s growing up, on her way, no longer the daughter who will need her in the same way, the daughter launching a new life.
I recall the summer day 2 years ago my son warned me, with a concerned tenderness, “Mom, I’m not going to be around much anymore. I’ll be hanging out with my friends a lot more.” For a moment our eyes locked, mine yearning, filled with unexpected tears, his pulling away, furrowed brows and a stiff grin harnessing the tenderness he couldn’t, shouldn’t have.
I reflect, in a way, for mothers, each changing year with our kids, we feel the same — things will never be the same. I felt that the first day of school when my son went to kindergarten. Holding his tiny hand tightly, we didn’t want to let each other go. He looked at me after scanning the kindergarten room with grave concern, “why is everyone sitting down?”, he asked. Tears ran down my cheeks. “Of course, you’re right, kids should be running around”, I thought. After he said, “I don’t want to stay here, I want to go home”, I decided then and there to homeschool.
But for most mothers, they have to leave sometime.
I’m reminded of the day Jesus, when just twelve years old, on the brink of teenage hood, disappeared when returning home with his parents from Jerusalem after the Feast of Passover. After going back to Jerusalem to find him, and searching for three days (can you imagine the panic?), his parents found him in the temple courts among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions with wisdom beyond his years.
“His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
Jesus asks, “Why were you searching for me?”
(That sounds like a pre-teen to me).
Can you imagine Mary’s anxiousness, her worry and anger when he disappeared? Sure, it was God’s will for Jesus to escape his parents that day to go to the temple, but in his humanness, he was also an adolescent starting the process of breaking away.
I can just imagine Mary and Joseph pondering on the long, hot journey returning home from Jerusalem,
“I know when he comes back, things will ever be the same.”
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