If You Leave

The back-to-school honeymoon we enjoyed in those fresh-faced few weeks of summer is clearly over.   We are swimming in the deep-end now. We are in full-on homework agony. The scheduling squeezes of after-school clubs are putting a vice-grip squeeze on us now.  The once sparkly-new, back-to-school tennis shoes have turned into worn-down stinkers that fill the mudroom with an aroma worthy of a Febreeze commercial.   

So far, Colin’s second-grade year can best be described as tricky.  One month in, there was very little complaint from our cheerfully mischievous seven-year-old force-of-motion.  Somewhere during this second semester though, school has lost its luster. Although he finally made the connection that there is a definite cause and effect between good grades and lots of compliments, it is painfully aware to Jamie and me that sometimes in The World of Colin, the risk outweighs the reward.  Both of us are storing this little nugget of realization and praying daily this will disappear before he is sixteen. (Ha!) On a more positive note, Jamie and I have noticed more attentiveness to those all-important indicators of future success: handwriting, hair-combing and friend making.

High school, on the other hand, is hard.  For all the confidence Jack left home with on the first day of school, this has been a tough couple of weeks.       

First, he and his steady broke up.  To be fair, there’s not much “dating” a fourteen-year-old who lives in the middle of nowhere can do.  He and she are both busy with schedules in and out of school. They also didn’t have many classes together, so time for conversation was tough.  Jack decided a breakup, “just makes sense.” Much to his dismay, she was in total agreement.

Two weeks after the break-up, against the advice of his parents (who have been told repeatedly they know nothing about high school,) Jack asked a different girl from his friend group to a dance.  Jamie and I advised against it. We thought it was too early to ask a girl in the common friend group much of anything – much less a dance.

By the way, who in their right mind came up with the idea that boys should ask a girl to a dance with a show-stopping, Golden Globe worthy “proposal”?  I’m talking about a simple high school dance, mind you. For teenagers.

I’d bet good money some highfalutin Pinterest-Mom and all her super-crafty friends got together and came up with this whole hoco/sock hop/prom-posal malarkey.  Back in my day, we were lucky if we could get a friend to do reconnaissance before the dance and even then information was often unreliable.

My freshman year, I was assured by my reconnaissance team (composed of a couple of kids from the school bus) that the fella I had an enormous crush on was most definitely going to ask me to homecoming.  He most definitely did not. He asked someone else.

I ended up asking my best friend’s cousin.  He didn’t go to our school and didn’t really know me that well.  A nice enough guy, he was very shy and didn’t really like to dance.  I remember the dance being two hours of awkward misery. Consequently, I have never seen my freshman homecoming date again.  Ever. Bless him.

Jack insisted he make a dance-posal poster. I refused to help him make it only because I have seen the handwriting of too many fourteen and fifteen-year old boys to know a Mama-made poster when I see one.  Jack’s read, “The dance would be SWEET with you. Wanna go?” He bought SweetTarts from Dollar General to glue to the poster as the “accessory.” I had pink and purple glitter in our school supply box that matched the packaging.  Have mercy.

“Babe,” I reasoned “are you sure she wants to go?  Are you sure she’s going to say yes?” To which he answered with a hopeful grin, “Mom, you can’t ever be sure of anything.  Isn’t that part of it – taking a chance?” Dear Lord, please help this child, for he is just like his way-too-idealistic mother.

The morning of the big ask, he got out of the car trying to discreetly carry a top-heavy poster covered in glitter.  As he walked away from the car, I could see glitter wafting behind him like pixie dust. He texted me before I’d even gotten to my office, “Well, that didn’t go well.”   

My heart sank.  I pictured him like he looked before we cut his hair when he turned a year old.  Big blue eyes. Head full of red curls. He looked like a Gerber Baby and I’m not just saying that.  Lots of sweet little ladies in the grocery store told me so.

I could just see him standing in an open courtyard with 487 students looking at him as he held that big poster.  He said he knew the minute he saw her, it was doomed. Her eyes opened in surprise and her cheeks blushed. She saw the sign and said, “Well, um.  I guess we could just go – just as friends.”

That’s a death-knell, in case you’re wondering.  He texted her after we got home that evening after the SweetTart poster had long been thrown in the garbage somewhere (Who knows what happened to the SweetTarts?) and let her off the hook.  Jack said he didn’t want her to do something that he knew she didn’t really want to do. He thought it would be easier if they just went separately. She agreed. Ugh.

I told him he didn’t have to go to the dance at all.  “I’ll take you to a nice dinner in Tallahassee, and maybe we can go to a movie or something instead.  You could ask one of your friends to come along,” I offered. “No, Mama. Now, I have to go,” he said.  I assured him he most certainly did NOT have to go to a stinky ole dance. I told him there were a thousand other options for fun, but he was adamant.  

I want to raise a man who does hard things out of principle.  I really do. The Mama in me just wants to wrap him in bubble wrap first.

This life lesson was reminiscent of one endured at the beginning of the year when the freshmen class held elections for Student Government.  Jack wanted to run for Treasurer. He was running against a girl from the same friend group. “Jack, are you sure you don’t want to just be a member of the student government?  Do you really want to run for office??”  He totally ignored me with, “When can we buy poster board?”

Not long ago, after the boys were long asleep I asked Jamie, “Don’t you think there’s something we can do to make this whole thing easier?”  He didn’t look up from his phone, “What whole thing?” (He’s not as emotionally invested as I am.) “The thing with Jack. It just seems like we’re in the middle of middle school stuff that didn’t happen in middle school.”  Jamie smiled at me with eyes that weren’t condescending enough to warrant me throwing something at him, “The thing with Jack is called life. It’s part of growing up. There’s nothing to do about it, but what we are already doing.”

Not too long ago, brought the fresh hell that is the tried-and-true, good old-fashioned lunchroom table seating arrangement shuffle.  Jack has sat with the same set of friends since middle school. My creature-of-habit and lover-of-routine has enjoyed the security and safety in the predictability of who to sit with at lunch FOREVER and EVER.  

Suddenly, all that changed.  The mafia, I mean – the girls – decided they didn’t want to sit with the same group of boys anymore.  Of course, that group included Jack.

His text to me at lunchtime read, “It makes me feel bad.  Like I’m not wanted anywhere.” Que all Mama Bear instincts going off like a million alarm bells.  I yelled – totally forgetting I was in the workplace, “Oh no, they didn’t!” I jumped out of my office chair like a crazy person that was going some actual where.  

My outburst was met with silence from my cube-mates, so I sat back down to mull things over. I texted back, “I am so sorry.  I know it hurts when things change, but maybe it’s a good thing? There are lots of different people you could sit with.” I could envision his head hanging over his lunch tray as he texted back, “Yea, I know. I just wanted to sit with those people.”

I sat helplessly in a grey-walled cubicle.  

That evening at the supper table conversation was lively.  At Jack’s retelling of the day, Colin offered, “Who are these kids again?  What’re their names? I can handle this if Mom will just drop me off at your school in the morning,” his hands were balled into tight fists.   I’m not going to lie, I entertained the thought. 

Jack was very positive about the whole thing.  He took it in stride, although I could tell there was a little sadness behind his eyes.

“You know,” I said with an upbeat lilt to my voice, “this whole high-school experience reminds me of a movie that I have always loved.  There was this girl, Andie, and she was from the wrong side of the tracks, but she was super smart and made her own clothes that were really cool. Blaine, the guy in the story, was super preppy and had lots of money. He really liked her, but his snooty, rich friends couldn’t stand her.”  Colin’s eyes glazed over and Jamie muttered, “Oh boy, here we go.”

Undeterred I continued, “Anyway.  Long story short. It’s time for the prom, but she can’t go with Blaine because he’s ignoring her because of the pressure from his friends.  So, she remakes her much older best friend’s old pink prom dress and goes to the dance anyway. As she’s leaving the house she tells her dad that she’s going because ‘I just wanna let ‘em know they didn’t break me.’  And she goes to the prom all beautiful and amazing and the guy tells off his dumb friends and kisses her while one of my all-time favorite songs, If You Leave by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, plays in the background.  It’s from one of the best movies of all time, Pretty in Pink.  We should rent it.”  

Jack held his fork in his hand suspended over his dinner plate his forehead frowned in a question mark, “Mom.  Who am I supposed to be in this scenario? The girl in the pink prom dress?” Before I could answer, Colin said, “This really isn’t helping, Mom.  First of all, it’s not the 1970s and second of all Def Leppard isn’t playing anymore.”

I haven’t heard yet how lunchtime seating worked out.  When I dropped him off this morning I wanted to say out of the open window, “Don’t you worry, babe.  In thirty years none of this will matter at all, I promise. Besides, I will come up there and punch somebody in the throat if I have to.”  But I didn’t. I said what I always say, “Be kind. Make good choices. I love you.” I sat in the car an extra second or two after he shut the door and watched him walk into the building with his backpack slung over his shoulder.  He’s gotten so tall.

This weekend whether he likes it or not, we are watching Pretty in Pink. I’m going to get him all jacked up about being who you are and not worrying about what other people think. I’m also going to tell him that when he walks in that dance all by himself, looking sharp in his best outfit, he will show them they didn’t break him.

And when I drop him off at the door on the night of the dance,  I will sit quietly in the parking lot, practicing my best throat punch – just in case.

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