Road Trips and Empty Nests

It’s that odd time of year when the heaviness of gloomy June skies have given up the fight and succumbed to summer.  In a few short weeks, all the weather you might attribute to the most southern corner of  California has graced us with its seemingly relieved presence:  blue skies clear enough for skywriters to appear, warm dry Santa Ana winds, damp nights when the sea air only begrudgingly wafts through open windows, and this morning, fog.


The RTR is on summer break and for the first time in his life since beginning school at the age of three, he’s home alone for nearly the entire 10 weeks.  No camp, no classes, no arranged visits with relatives, and absolutely no agenda.  Since I’ve been back to work for a couple of months now, he’s here each day most likely lost in a world that is unique to him — one more and more filled with what it appears to be his choice of direction in life.  He draws and paints, develops fierce mechanical robot images and plays interactive video games at his computer.  He wants to study game design.


I’d like to say that the past few years that I’ve been at home, I’ve had a positive influence on his quiet life, and at this point hope that whatever did come from our time together — more than we’ve spent together in his life —  is far more lasting than what I’d originally intended: to keep an eye and ear out for him with respect to school and responsibility in general.

Yes, I actually said that.  But I’ve learned quite a bit with this youngest of mine, and although we’re quite a long way from finding out whether he’s truly the strongest of us all, or whether he’s the absent-minded gentle boy I’ve always thought him to be, I suspect he’s a little of both, and we’ve barely a year left to send him on his way to find out for himself.

We’ve had little time or money for an elaborate vacation this year, and so we seized the opportunity to fly to San Francisco to tour the school he wants to attend.  The plan was to spend a day in the city, take the tour the next morning, and then rent a car and drive up to Mendocino, a town I’ve wanted to visit forever.

Mendocino, CA

Outside of my coming down with the strangest flu of sorts and being completely out for the count for two solid days, we made it to San Francisco just fine.  I wouldn’t have missed the tour of this school for anything because I honestly have many hopes attached to it like I suppose most parents are inclined to, even if the circumstances surrounding that desire aren’t the best.

Kearny Street

When the RTR was a  freshman or sophomore, a visitor came to speak at his art class and the person made such an impression that the RTR made an effort to tell me about it without my routine inquiry about his day.  I’ll never forget listening to him tell me about it because the focus of his interest was that he only needed a high school diploma to get in.  No SAT scores.  No AP credit.  Just.  Graduate.

It has been quite the journey since that day, and we’ve watched him do quite well in all of his classes each Fall semester, and then fall completely apart in the Spring.  We’ve planned with him, discussed options for Plan B or C when Plan A clearly wasn’t working, we’ve tried to motivate and outright bribed him.  We’ve threatened with images of our version of the real world although we weren’t completely convinced we wanted to be the part of that option we might have to be.

Deciding to save my breath and his ears this year has been a definite giving in.  Yet again, I’ve caved to the strength of the passive genes my boys all clearly have.   It’s amazing.  But the school was amazing, and while on that tour, I found myself envious, pushing away the what ifs and if onlys that kept rising up in me.  It’s an urban campus with buildings spread out all over the city with a timed shuttle that carries students to and from their classes and dorms.  I watched as a student here and there walked by, laptop bags slung over shoulders, ears wired to iPods, Starbucks in hand.  I imagined my son there and saw him fitting in at least from an external appearance — minus the coffee.

The million dollar question — no, make that almost $30,000 since that’s what will come out of our pockets to pay for this each year — is whether being in that environment where he won’t have to deal with calculus, or arcane subjects that aren’t directly related to his focus of study, where he’ll be able to take studio classes right away instead of having to wait until general ed requirements are satisfied will help him understand that life requires us all to complete basic tasks we don’t necessarily want to, nor enjoy.  That sometimes, they are painfully challenging, but we have to do them anyway.  That in spite of our angst, we often grow the most and admit to learning the best from those lessons that seem only to be hurdles in our path.  Like parenthood at times.  Like being the parent of children who quietly meander in a direction only they seem to understand at a pace that I swear is intended to make me crazy.

I’m convinced now that I’m down to my last year and facing empty nest syndrome square in the face, that I’m the one who has learned the most.  I’ve learned that if I had it to do all over again, very few things would change.  But I would wonder about the strangeness of life’s plan and our response to it.  To whom it carries along and to those it mystifies.

Beach Glass

I will also hold my breath this last year and continue to wonder why, why, why, why if all he needed was a high school diploma to get into that art school,  he would seemingly intentionally fail a semester of English.   He told me he just didn’t do the work.  That he waited, and then it was too late.

Yes, life’s like that. It’s like that all the time.