Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Big School

My heart skips a beat whenever I drop my my twelve-year-old son off at school in the morning, and he sneaks a look over his shoulder at me, as he walks away, and makes the faintest gesture of a wave good-bye.  It’s the barest acknowledgment, and yet a clear demonstration of the depth of his feelings, the expression of which is no longer cool.  They are slowly being buried deeper and deeper beneath the stoic, reveal-nothing demeanor of a Tween. 

We recently took Cameron to the orientation at the junior high school, which, here in Eagle Rock, is on the same campus as the high school.  The Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High (ERHS) campus appears huge and confusing after elementary school, even one as large as Eagle Rock Elementary which hosts about a thousand students.  This junior-senior high school is so different than the schools I attended in the Midwest that I’m challenged to wrap my mind around what it would be like to attend this big school at the tender age of twelve.

There are about as many students on this campus as there were in the high school I attended, although it was just a three year school and this one has six grades.  The ERHS campus, however, is much more spread out than either my junior high or senior high schools were.  My schools were contained in single large building, likely due to the more severe weather where I went to school, so finding one’s way around campus was not as daunting.  The classes at the campus here are spread out among the main building, numerous bungalows, far-flung boys’ and girls’ gymnasiums, and the swimming pool in the city park across the street.  ERHS students traverse distances between classes nearly as great as I did in college.  Whereas my schools were surrounded by rolling green hills and trees, this campus butts snugly up against the residential neighborhood that surrounds it. 

ERHS is an International Baccalaureate World school, and the academic program is rigorous.  There are no breaks in the day for such things as home economics, industrial arts, or typing classes.  Students at ERHS have four classes each day, alternating each day, a schedule which will surely prove to be an organizational challenge for an absent-minded professor like Cameron.  It seems like a lot to take on at twelve, and I wonder whether we are pushing kids to grow up too fast. 

I ask Cameron if he’s ready for this challenge, if he’s excited to go to the Big School, and he says, simply, “yeah.”  His effort to contain his enthusiasm, however, fails when the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.  I know he’s excited.  He has always wanted to be treated as if he is older than his age, and I think this school and this program will give him what he wants.  He’s been at the same elementary school for seven years.  He towers over the little kindergartners, and he sails through the obligatory testing.  I know he’s ready.

I know I will cry when he graduates from the elementary school.  I know I will cry when I first drop him off at the Big School.  I know I will cry when I drop his younger sister Chloë off at the elementary school alone for the first time; they have been at the same school for six years now.  I also know my children will wish that I wouldn’t cry.  Not in public, anyway.  For them, the only thing worse than showing any emotion themselves is to be seen with a PARENT who is openly and publicly displaying their feelings. 

Once upon a time, I, too, learned to suppress my own expression of emotions, to protect myself from hurt and to avoid drawing attention to myself.  I am now at place, unfortunately for my children, perhaps, where I want to reconnect fully with all of the emotions that come with experiencing the highs and lows of Living Life.  It doesn’t always feel good, and when it hurts, I remind myself what Jim Rohn says: “The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy.”  If I want joy, then I have to accept the whole package, the happy along with the sad.

It occurs to me that we, my tweens and I, are on parallel and opposite tracks.  Like the Angel’s Flight funicular, we perfectly counter-balance each other as we move at equal speed in opposite directions, the weight of each one’s car powering the other’s.  We wave as we pass by in the middle.

I don’t know if Cameron will sneak a look over his shoulder at me when I drop him off at the high school next year.  Maybe he will think it’s time to give it up, now that he’s at the Big School.  Maybe he will continue it out of habit.  I hope he does.  I know that I will cry either way.  And I know that either way is perfect.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Rose of Compromise

“When the vase comes to you, select a rose that represents your Mom, one that reminds you of her.”  I survey the types and colors of roses in the vase, as it goes around the circle.  There are roses of many colors, but only one red, and I know for certain that it is meant for me to pick.  My dad always gave my mother a dozen red roses for her birthday, and she wanted no other color.  The single red rose is clearly “our symbol.” One by one, a rose is selected, and the red rose remains in the vase.  Until the woman next to me chooses.  She reaches for the red, then hesitates.  I silently ‘will’ her to choose another color. She examines another rose.  Then she goes back to the red rose, and takes it. 
I feel lost.  What other rose will do?  I take the vase from my neighbor’s outstretched hand, and I review my options.  There is a pretty pink rose that would be my daughter’s choice.  There’s a gorgeous coral rose that would be my choice.  And there are some white roses.  I select one of the white roses.
“Write down how this rose represents your mother.”  Hmmph.  “It’s not red!” I write.  I consider more thoughtfully the rose I’ve chosen, and I remember that my mother loved subtle earthy colors like eggshell, beige, taupe, white, and caramel in her home décor and in her wardrobe.  There is a redeeming quality to this rose, I realize. 

“Write down how this rose represents you.”  Hmmph!!  I look over at the brilliant coral rose that I would have chosen for myself, which is now in someone else’s possession, and I think “but that’s the rose that represents ME!”  Turning back to the white rose in my hand, I consider it once more .  “This rose isn’t what either my Mom or I would have chosen,” I write.  “This is a rose of compromise.”  It occurs that that, perhaps, that’s what this rose is about.  It represents all of the compromises I’ve made in my life, trying to make her happy while at the same time trying to do what I feel is right for me. 
I study it further.  I realize that, even though it’s not what I would have chosen, I do like the rose.  The edges of the petals are curly and it looks girly.  It’s a creamy color, not just “boring old white.”  It’s opening and welcoming.  I like this flower, for its own flower’s sake, when I’m not saddling it with connotations and representations.  I think my mother would like this rose, too, as she liked to be surrounded by soothing tones. We had very different opinions on many things, she and I, and yet we always, eventually, found common ground. 

The word ‘compromise’ carries a connotation of “pleasing neither.”  It occurs, to me, however, while contemplating this particular rose, that a compromise is more about encompassing the space of shared agreement, the place where two circles overlap, than it is about defining the area of discord or dissociation.  This rose of compromise represents the space where my mother and I met on common ground.  And we still do. She is telling me that her spirit meets me where and as I am, without judgment, without disapproval.  This rose is now the most beautiful Mother’s Day gift I can imagine.