Whenever my pride puffs up for something like jogging around the neighborhood without passing out or putting together a salad from a bag that did not say “kit” on it, I know exactly how to fix some humble pie for myself: volunteer to chaperone a field trip for my older son Ethan. He makes it all too clear that having me come along on these school outings is a fate worse than death for him. Many times his groans will escalate into high-pitched whines and repeated requests for me not to go. TRUST ME, son, if I could opt to stay home close to my coffee maker instead of spending hours corralling hyper young children around I would, so put your riot gear away and just accept it. As a stay-at-home mom, I have the time and availability, and his class often needs me at every trip much to Ethan’s dismay.
Everybody needs a Connor, my younger son, aka mama’s boy who makes you believe that you are the best thing since sliced bread. Everybody also needs an Ethan who deflates your ego and reminds you to get over yourself…often. Whenever I spontaneously burst into song, Connor is sure to sing along or dance with enthusiasm. Ethan, on the other hand, will put his hands over his ears and plead, “Stop!” There are many American Idol hopefuls who could have benefited from Ethan’s services. After several field trips, I have come to realize that the other consistent chaperone for his classroom is the mom of his good buddy. Ethan always wants to be with his pal but having both moms there means they are put in separate groups on these trips. Of course that is the ONLY reason Ethan protests like crazy (I tell myself every time).
This week’s field trip was to see a production of Aladdin & Other Enchanting Tales at Popejoy Hall, a performing arts theater on the campus of the University of New Mexico. Lucky for Ethan, the class was not divided into groups since we were all going to be sitting together. He was able to sit right next to his buddy and mom while I sat closely enough to feel like we were bonding. The 50-minute performance was a mix of dance, puppetry, magical illusions, digital background scenes and audio recording. To be honest, I had come with low expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was very creative with great costuming and unique storytelling. The best moment for me was looking over at Ethan and seeing him on the edge of his seat completely enraptured. It may have birthed daydreams of a son who shared his mother’s love for theater and the performing arts. One day we would get season tickets and enjoy this love together as long as I promised not to sing along when we saw Les Mis.
Afterwards, he said it was “good” which in Ethan’s monosyllabic communication style is a raving review. He even elaborated by telling me his favorite part was the scene with the soldiers. We then herded to the student union to eat our lunches and let the kids feed the ducks at the pond before heading back to school (or coffee machine for me). No doubt that this field trip was better than freezing on a pumpkin farm in the fall. However, I was surprised to hear that not everyone shared my and my son’s enjoyment. I only spoke with a handful of people, but one classmate thought it was “weird” and even “bad.” I’m so glad that Ethan enjoyed it and wondered if having heard stories with drums in the African tradition in Chicago helped expand his view of storytelling. This production used words in very limited amounts and required the audience to follow along in less traditional ways. I am not saying that critics are less imaginative. I know I for one do not appreciate ALL performances.
My senior year in college I lived with two girls, one of whom was my dear friend from freshman year who also stood in my wedding, Eleanor. The other we knew less well, but she needed a place and we needed a roommate. She was off the charts brilliant. She majored in both dance and math and somehow saw the seamless connection between the two. She decided last minute to take the LSAT and got just shy of a perfect score. She carved a replica of the Eiffel Tower out of a block of cheese. She was extremely intelligent and extremely creative. She invited us to her final dance performance where one dance she choreographed involved dancers walking in perfect elliptical orbits. The other dance was her sitting on the ground, legs outstretched, pulling out a banana, eating it, then sewing the peel together and walking off the stage. Eleanor and I clapped in support, but were lost on the meaning and art behind the production. Had she only acted out a Dawson’s Creek episode that we were more prone to understanding at the time then maybe we would have had the proper appreciation. Not all art is for all audiences, and this may have been the case with Aladdin. I was glad that the kids were exposed to this representation of these ancient tales even if one complained afterwards that there was no Jasmine. Sigh. Our mutual appreciation of the play as perhaps the less popular experience may have made the day sweeter; my Ethan and I had connected.
Being on a college campus and realizing that in 10 short years he could be one of those beanie-wearing students also made me savor the day more. I have always, always been the mom who did not cry at first days of school but went and had a celebratory mimosa. I have always, always, always been the mom who assumed the kids would go AWAY to college thereby ensuring Mike and my sweet freedom for dining dates, weekend getaways, and adventurous travels. However, walking around UNM with my precious older boy made me experience what the other side of soft-hearted, warm-blooded mothers feel. Maybe it didn’t help that there were signs everywhere advertising something about a lecture or meeting on “female organisms” except it was not on “organisms” but the other “o” word that I cannot even get myself to type here because my boys are just down the hall sleeping among their stuffed animals. The “o” word was EVERYWHERE. Ok, maybe there was only one or two signs, but to me it felt like they were jumping out begging for my son to ask me about them.
Before I MAY have had the idea that the boys could only apply to schools OUTSIDE of a 2-state radius from us, but now I marveled unbelievingly that my mom had dropped me off at college and drove hundreds of miles away. The reality of the situation hit me hard enough to knock me into the opposite world where instead I was imagining making them the most traumatized college students on campus because I WOULD BE THEIR ROOMMATE. For the first time ever I thought that maybe having them live at home while pursuing their bachelor’s degrees was not outrageously out of the question but rather something that sounded quite nice. That night I may have forced Ethan to snuggle with me on the couch for an unreasonable amount of time as though that could contain his 8 y/o body to me for decades to come. I may have tried to open him up to the idea of living with me on whatever college campus he chose, even promising to use Bears sheets on my bed. I may have poured an obscene amount of pixie dust on their precious heads and wished that time would freeze at that exact moment when our family of four was reclining together on the couch with arms and legs interspersed in a tapestry of love.
Wishful thinking cannot keep time still just like it cannot prevent Ethan’s deep groans when I tell him I am going on the next field trip. However there is always hope that these moments of childhood will exceed our expectations. We may connect and bond. We may find great enjoyment. We may treasure the postponement of our independence because we savor our interdependence so much more. That is a timeless tale worth telling.