Slowly, she meandered out of the classroom, making sure to meet the eyes of the other parents with a smile. This was her do-over, and she wanted to do it right.
If not for herself, for the boy.
That meant no more keeping to herself, and definitely no more embarrassing fits thrown over lost water bottles or winter gloves…
If you want to make friends, you’ve got to BE a friend, she thought… why did all the best wisdom have to sound so fucking corny?
In no particular hurry, she wandered the now empty hallway, flanked by a few straggling parents rummaging through lockers, making last-minute adjustments to backpacks and belongings.
Clutching at that last moment of control as best they could.
She wiggled her fingers in a half-wave to a passing child. The girl just stared at her in confusion, trailing behind her mother in the opposite direction.
This is gonna be good, she thought to herself, For all of us.
With both hands, she pressed against the metal push bar, opening the door to a sunlit playground alive with the sounds of the school year.
Shielding her eyes with her right hand, she anxiously bit at her left thumbnail as she scanned the field… there he was. Gray t-shirt. Black sport shorts. Just-bought black tennis shoes – “with REAL bowties!” he’d proclaimed with excitement.
His first “big boy” shoes. The first of many. She’d better start saving up now for the days when he’d actually start to care about fashion and name brands.
She thought back to the wars she’d waged with her parents about the right jeans, the right haircut, the right Bath & Body Works body splash (cucumber melon, duhhhh).
Everything had to be just right, because it mattered. Shiny objects determined your place in the scheme of things. Thank God we aren’t there yet...
With a sigh, she found her way toward the jungle gym where the boy was attempting to scale a wide-set rope ladder. No surprise there. It was always about climbing. And new playgrounds- he was probably stoked about that.
Maybe it’ll distract him from all these changes, she hoped. For her, such distractions were hard to find. Like an over-worked scab, her mind couldn’t seem to stop picking at them.
“Hey, bud,” she said, attempting to sound as happy and lighthearted as possible, “Time for me take off.”
She felt like she was in somebody else’s body, her voice coming from far away.
“Okay,” was all he said, his pure focus on the task in front of him: an unfamiliar climbing wall waiting to be conquered.
“Remember, you’re taking the bus home- yes?”
“Yep! The horse bus,” was his breezy response as he gave her a quick, obligatory hug.
Nearby, a blue-shirted boy gave his mom a half-assed wave. As she turned to go, he whipped around and yelled: “Mom! Wait!” The woman, in a wine-colored cardigan and jeans, turned around just in time to see him running towards her across the grass. She knelt to enfold him as he burst into tears, sobbing “I’ll… miss… you… TOO!”
She walked around the pair as reverently as possible, her head bowed, eyes glued to the ground.
After all, it might be catching… if she looked, she just might burst into tears herself.
Reaching the corner of the school building, she finally turned to give one last look. The boy still played, while the blue-shirt kid wiped away tears with the back of his hands, his mother offering gentle encouragement.
What a nutty fuckin’ world, she thought, considering her son… blue shirt kid… her husband, about to leave town for a memorial celebration for a childhood friend… her father-in-law, at that very moment in a hospital operating room thousands of miles away…
How does anyone survive this? she mused, What an insane mix of emotions… suddenly, a nap sounded better than just about anything. She considered waiting around to offer blue shirt boy’s mom a hug of encouragement, but maybe that’d be weird…
She didn’t want to start off the year as That Weird Mom Who Hugs Strangers.
Now at the edge of the street, she stood and watched her son. He seemed happy enough, fairly oblivious to the bigger picture- the milestone this was for his parents, the rush of emotions they felt on a daily basis as they watched him surpass their greatest expectations.
She almost wished he was sadder… but then, she wouldn’t be able to handle it. She might have to scoop him up and take him back home to the safe seclusion of the artificial world they’d spent 5 long years making for him.
A world that was now no longer necessary and maybe even a little confining. She felt untethered. Like she could use the good grounding of a stiff drink.
Instead, she turned her thoughts to the work needing her attention. In just a few short hours, the boy would be bouncing down those school bus steps, his worn dinosaur backpack filled with paraphernalia from an unfamiliar world of which she wasn’t apart.
And, ready or not, she’d be there waiting to greet this new version of the boy who had once shoved toy trains down her toilet and eaten superglue.
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