When my son, Sam, was a toddler, the highlight of my day was picking him up from daycare. His big blue eyes would light up and he’d wave his chubby arms in the air, screaming “Mama!” at the top of his lungs.
Once, during a summer shower, I buckled him into his car seat and we chased a rainbow together.
Picnics under oak trees. Dancing to Barney tapes.
“We will always have an unbreakable bond,” I remember thinking.
“Always” ended when Sam entered fourth grade.
That’s the year he told me, “You don’t have to come inside school to pick me up, Mom.”
“I don’t mind,” I told him, smiling.
“But I do,” he said and didn’t smile.
To say I was crushed would be an understatement. I loved going inside school and chatting with his pals. But now I was stuck waiting in the parking lot. After a few days of banishment, I looked down at my sweatpants and a lightbulb popped on.
“Are you embarrassed with how I look?” I asked my son. “I can dress better if you want. But honestly, Sam, lots of moms dress sloppier than I do.”
“It’s not how you look, Mom. It’s what happens when you open your mouth.”
“My breath?” I asked my 9-year-old. “No problem. I’ll pop a mint.”
“Not your breath. Your words. It’s what you say that embarrasses me.”
Hence began The Second Chapter of Motherhood. That’s the chapter where your kids view you as a separate entity from themselves. An entity that asks way too many questions and makes jokes that nobody gets.
I entered that second chapter with gusto. It’s hard for the reader but, oh, so easy for the writer, since it basically writes itself.
Take last July, for instance. Now 19, Sam was home on college break and working a summer job at Jimmy John’s. I knew he would freak out if he thought I was spying on him. But I was in the area, I was hungry and yeah, I’ll admit it, I wanted to see him work.
Sam hardly ever makes his own sandwich at home and today he was on sandwich-making duty.
My plan was to slip in and out of the crowded restaurant without him noticing. It would have worked, too, had I not seen my son’s car in the parking lot. The bumper appeared to have collided with something. I ran over to assess the damage.
Without thinking, I started rubbing the dent with my fingers. I stood there rubbing for a good three or four minutes before I realized it wasn’t Sam’s car. Wrong license plate. Wrong make and model. The size and color were right, though. I take solace in that.
A Jimmy John’s manager had come outside the restaurant and was holding open the door for customers.
“Ma’am, can I ask what you were doing touching my car?” she asked me, as I tried to scurry past her.
Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.
“Ummm ... Funny story,” I told her. “You see, your car looks a lot like my son’s car. And I thought my son had been in a wreck. Which he hadn’t. You had.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“The story gets funnier,” I told her. “You see, he actually works here.”
She smiled and I stepped in the line.
“It’s OK,” I told myself. “She won’t know which employee is my son.”
And she wouldn’t have — if at that precise moment, Sam hadn’t decided to claim me.
“Hi, Mom! I can’t believe you’re here,” Sam said, proudly.
He had left his sandwich-making post to greet me. My heart melted in a puddle on the floor.
“You should really try our Turkey Unwich,” he said. “It’s wrapped in lettuce. I think you’d like it.”
Hence began The Third Chapter of Motherhood., the chapter where your children aren’t so much embarrassed by you as they are amused.
Fearing my son might be branded “The Sandwich Maker with the Crazy, Mom” at work, I questioned him later that night.
“Did your boss mention I touched her car in the parking lot?”
“Oh, that was you?” he said and grinned. “Everybody at work was talking about this lady messing with my supervisor’s car. They could see it out the window.”
When I told Sam the whole story, he laughed till he cried. His reaction was almost as gleeful as when I used to pick him up at daycare. He didn’t wave his arms. But he had tears in his eyes.
I can’t wait for Chapter Four.