Rites of Passage

It's a funny thing, being a parent. Sometimes it's funny “ha-ha”, sometimes it's funny “I have to laugh so I won't cry,” and sometimes it's just perplexing and frustrating and exasperating and painful and joyful, bittersweet, tender and ridiculously hard. Among other things.

Not long ago I spent the better part of the weekend cleaning out my son's room. He no longer has a toy box; that was a big step, considering he's had one since he was a toddler. When he was little it was full of toy trains, stuffed animals, Duplo blocks and enough Hot Wheels to melt down and create a Hummer. In recent years it has come to hold the same Hot Wheels and then some, basketballs, footballs, water pistols and Legos. Since his daddy recently got a brand new camouflage recliner (Yes, we are the people who buy the camouflage furniture at Bass Pro) Sam wanted the old recliner for his room. It's just awful to look at, as most seven-year-old recliners are, but he wanted it regardless. I finally relented, but the toy box had to go. I bought him some plastic totes to contain the Legos that mysteriously multiply at night and he happily got rid of the eleventy-thousand Happy Meal toys lining the bottom of the box.

I handed him a gigantic plastic tote and told him to put in there what he wanted to keep from the toy box. I have since labeled that tote the “Box of Juvenile Delinquency” because I watched as he threw in sword, sword, knife, light saber, gun, gun, sword, light saber, handcuffs.... I figure that box could very well end up as evidence someday. He put the Hot Wheels up in the closet since he doesn't play with them anymore (but I just can't let them go) and liquidated his stock of stuffed animals. When we moved that big ol' ugly recliner into his room we made him happier than when he saw Buzz Lightyear in person at Disney World when he was eight. He spent the remainder of the evening in his recliner reading comic books.

About six weeks ago a girl who had been a classmate of our oldest daughter passed away. My daughter had to come to terms with her own mortality at 13, something most people don't have to do until they are adults. She had to face the horrible fact that sometimes kids die, and we don't know why. She handled it with grace and maturity and even though I'm glad she has the capability to do so, it also pains my heart that she had to do it at all, much less gracefully.

My youngest daughter gave me her first official eye roll a few weeks ago. I had told her I loved her as she got out of the van to catch the bus. She didn't respond. I was sure she just hadn't heard me because, come on, she's eight. Why would she ignore me? I repeated it. No response. I rolled down the window and hollered. Twice. Finally my cousin who was dropping off her son said, “Kady, I think your momma is trying to tell you something.” I once again yelled “I love you, Kady!” to which she rolled her little eight-year-old eyes and gave me the most scathing two-thumbs-up I've ever received in my life.

The giving up of a toybox, the saying good-bye to a friend, the first time you are embarrassed of paternal affection – all rites of passage, however uncomfortable, painful or full of angst. They're not only monumental moments for the kids, but for Momma, too.

I remember when my mom and Godmother decided to paint my room a more “grownup” color – something in between the color of American cheese and a yellow LifeSaver. They emptied my room and began to paint. I, ignoring their request that I go ride my bike or play in traffic, spent the afternoon reading out loud to them from Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. They eventually got used to me being there and I remember that day fondly. We talked about a lot of grown-up, womanly things that day. It was a rite of passage for my mom, probably akin to what getting rid of my son's toybox was like – a putting away of the child and a welcoming of the adult yet to be.

I was 18, a Senior in high school, when a girl in the grade below me was killed in a car accident. While we weren't close friends, we were in Accounting, on the yearbook staff and in Band together. Her death was the first time I had to face the fact that sometimes teenagers die. After her funeral I laid my head in my mom's lap and cried until there were no more tears. My mom didn't know what to do any more than I knew how to comfort Abby in the same situation, but she stroked my hair, handed me tissue upon tissue, told me it was okay to cry and that she was there. It was another rite of passage -- for us both.

I remember the first time I asked my mom to not accompany my friends and me into Walmart. We were in sixth grade and had asked Mom to take us to town to buy baby bottles for the slumber party. (Yes, I said baby bottles. It's a very long, ridiculously embarrassing story.) Mom started to get out of the car, but I said, “You can just stay here, Mom. We won't be in there long.” I remember the look on Mom's face as she removed her hand from the door handle and sunk back into her seat. She looked straight ahead and waved me away. She was hurt. She was very hurt. She talked about it to friends and family for a long time and as a snotty 12 year old I thought she was ridiculous and silly. As an adult, a momma now myself, I know I really did hurt her feelings by my request. It wasn't that I was embarrassed of her, it truly was a moment of pre-teen excitement and utter oblivion to the feelings of, frankly, anyone besides myself. I apologized to her shortly after the birth of my first child.

I have been expecting my first request to not accompany one of the kids somewhere for awhile now and it has yet to come. Either a) I raised more compassionate children than I was as a child, b) my children are way too attached to me, or c) they are deathly afraid of me and therefore won't ever ask me to not accompany them anywhere. I hope it's that they're afraid of me. Wait, wait, I'm kidding. I mean,, I really mean I hope they're just afraid of me.

In a lot of ways I try to head off the opportunity at the pass. Rather than have my daughter in middle school request being dropped off at a certain point away from the giggly, hormonal masses of teenagers behind the school as I pull up in the mom van with the RDNKDVA plates and four inches of mud caked on the lower half of the body, I just start asking about a mile away where she would like to be dropped off and I comply. I left my youngest in the very capable hands of a friend of mine for a birthday party and I went shopping. I vacated the premises willingly rather than endure her asking me to sit out of playing Laser Tag with her and her friends. I tell myself I'm being cool and just plain awesome, but the truth is I'm scared.

I may have survived my first eye roll, but I'm sure when the time comes I am asked to stay in the car I will call my mom and apologize. Again. And see if her lap is still available for me to shed a few tears.

~~ Mrs. Nesbitt

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