The Puddle of Nihilism

Every semester, for the first essay in Composition 1, following the design of the class, I ask each student to share an experience and analyze the impact the experience had on his or her life. And, of course, the experiences vary wildly from graduation or a senior trip to a grandmother dying to divorce and addictions to even child prostitution.

And, while I appreciate and respect every single student’s particular trust and courage in sharing his or her story with me, I admit that I am sometimes overwhelmed with serious, dark topics and the sometimes inevitable conclusion of “And I learned not to take life for granted.”

This semester, Younger is taking the same class in high school, receiving dual credit. He wrote, expressively in my opinion, of the experience that taught him intelligence actually requires work and study to be fully realized.

Apparently, his teacher offered the students in Younger’s class the opportunity to share their stories with the class in exchange for extra credit. And Younger thought he might like the extra credit.

“But then the first person read his essay, Mom,” Younger told me, his eyes wide.

“Did grandma die?” I asked.

“Every essay, Mom. Death, depression, and suicide. I couldn’t follow those essays with mine, Mom. I spent an entire paragraph on the weight of a duffel bag.”

“You might have — ”

“No, no,” he interrupted me. “The guy next to me wrote on a camp he went to. He had fun. When the other students started reading their essays, his face just –” Younger swiped a hand in front of his face, starting high at his forehead and ending below his chin, his facial muscles following the downward movement. “His face just fell. He didn’t read his essay, either, Mom.  I mean, some essays were good, but all of them were sad.  And,” he continued, “I started to feel sorry for my teacher.”

“You don’t feel sorry for me. I read those every semester, too. I have had to interrupt a student’s narrative describing grandma’s last days to explain the use of a comma splice. Which makes me feel like a genuine grammar Nazi — ‘so sorry grandma died, tough stuff, but you can’t use a comma this way.’ ”

“But, Mom, Mr. English was right there, right then. And I felt sorry for him.  And the other students were like, ‘Ooooh, that’s so deep.’ ” He dropped his voice a bit to quote one student, ” ‘And I was like a bird flying high above my problems.’ And then the others were like, ‘Ooooh, that’s so deep.’ And I’m like, no, no, you’re delusional and procrastinating.”

“Younger –”

“People mistake dark for deep, Mom. Nihilism can be a puddle.”

Well.

Perhaps I should consider using Younger’s words of wisdom next semester when I once again introduce this essay to a new gathering of students —

People mistake dark for deep. Nihilism can be a puddle.

Or maybe I’ll just try harder to get Younger to feel sorry for me.

That might have actual entertainment value.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Philosophy of Life

So, Monday was the first day of Younger’s senior year. Monday, the day of the solar eclipse. The solar eclipse that Younger wanted to travel to see in totality.

Instead, he had to settle for a ninety-eight percent solar eclipse.

So, early Monday, standing outside his bedroom door, I took a deep breath then rapped my knuckles lightly against the wood. “Morning,” I sang lightly, poking my head in.

“Hmmph,” I heard from the pile of bedcovers.

“Hey, Younger, if you get ready quickly, I can take you to breakfast before school.”

One eye appeared, blinking at the light. “McDonald’s?”

And for a few brief moments, I was pleased that I had brightened his day just a bit. But, once he was begrudgingly prepared to venture toward his last high school year, I could not find my car keys.

You need keys to venture.

So, instead, after frantically searching for several minutes, I grabbed the keys to our 1996 Ford F-150. A bit of a rougher ride than the car. But, except for the steering wheel cover that long ago degraded into sticky rubber particles, not a completely bad drive.

Well, and except for that forgotten refrigerator in the back.

“I’m not getting McDonald’s, am I?” Younger commented as we stood shoulder to shoulder staring at the freezer door wedged at an awkward and askew angle between the refrigerator and tire well.

But we embraced our inner redneck and climbed into the ancient truck, not getting above fourth gear during the entire thirteen miles. But we, eventually, arrived successfully at the stoplight in front of the school.

“At least we beat the traffic,” Younger managed a bit of optimism.

“Yeah,” I glanced at the lo-ooo-ong line of cars snaking behind us and turned into the parking lot with a sigh. “Yeah, well, we might have actually been traffic.”

As he slid from the truck seat, Younger hiked his backpack onto his shoulder. “It could have been worse. That’s about all I can say about it.”

I think, sometimes, that is the philosophy of life.

It could have been worse.

And that’s about all I can say about it.

 

 

 

One More Time

Today, I helped Elder carry boxes, baskets, and bags to his car. Then he wrapped his arms around me and pressed his cheek to the top of my head.

“I love you so much, Mom,” he told me.

“I love you so much, too,” I responded, patting his back.

Then I watched him climb into his car, surrounded by a significant portion of his material belongings. And I stood in the driveway until he and his car bounced onto the gravel road, heading towards another school year at Mizzou.

This parting thing — it doesn’t get any easier with practice.

Just sayin’.

 

Be Batman

Tuesday was registration day for seniors, so Younger and I spent a half an hour at his high school as he dragged himself from table to table.

At the first stop, the ladies gave Younger his schedule and said, “They have you in ceramics, Younger.”

“Uhhhnhhh,” Younger drawled, reluctantly accepting the paperwork. “No.”

So, we had to make a quick stop at the counselor’s table.

Eventually, we made it to the last stop — his picture for the yearbook. I tried to straighten his tie and comb his hair, while he ducked and grumbled, mortified. Then, with me laughing at him, he walked over to stand in front of the screen for his last school picture.

Afterward, we took a trip to the grocery store. And Younger, who had been slumped in his seat, suddenly straightened at the sight of a bicyclist riding against traffic, some length of material flapping behind him.

“Is that Batman?” he questioned, peering closer. “Is it? Oh.” He deflated. “It’s a vest. I thought it was a cape. I was excited for a moment.”

I’m not sure if he was excited at the prospect of seeing Batman or at the prospect of seeing some nut who thought he was Batman.

But a skinny guy in a flapping, yellow vest riding a wobbly bike the wrong direction is apparently a severe disappointment in Younger’s entertainment realm.

He’s a hard one to please.

 

Time and Again

Well, Younger is officially a senior.

When my children were younger, other parents warned, “Enjoy them now. They’ll be grown before you know.”

Then when I agreed to enjoy the boys while they were young, other parents would give me that smile — a smile that was not quite condescending, perhaps a little nostalgic, maybe even regretful, always knowing. And I know when the boys were little, some days seemed longer than forever and bedtime was really the only goal of the day.

But anyone finding a five-year-old where a toddler used to stand a blink ago cannot remain blissfully ignorant of the passage of time.

So, I always knew my boys would only be little for a very short time. I would close my eyes and try to imprint into my heart the feel of their arms around my neck, the softness of their breath in my ear, the absolute trust in the relaxing of their bodies against mine.

I wrote their stories so I wouldn’t forget those everyday little moments that get lost in the past.

A long time ago, not so long ago, Younger and I used to snuggle on the sofa and watch Blue’s Clues and Dora the Explorer. When we lived in an apartment, I took him with me to the laundromat, and we did puzzles while our clothes spun in a washing machine.  Every week, we would do our grocery shopping, and we settled at Applebee’s for lunch where he got macaroni and cheese and a balloon.

Every year before school started, I would take him back to Applebee’s for his “last supper” and spoil him with dessert.

We have one more last supper, I guess.

I always understood that time was slipping by me too quickly. I just never figured out any possible maneuver that slowed it down — wishing, arguing, throwing tantrums, begging. Time can ignore all attempts at manipulation.

Even greedy fingers can’t grasp the sand in an hourglass.

So, Younger is a senior.

And, somehow, still my baby.

In My Dreams

I have a few weeks between semesters, so I have been power washing the house, cleaning windows, waterproofing the deck, scrubbing tile, and so on and so forth. About 2:00 yesterday afternoon, I collapsed on the sofa for a nap before tackling my laundry room.

Now and then, I roused for a moment or two as Elder paced through the house, a video playing on his cell phone, as usual. But at one point I blinked awake and realized he was listening to a math lecture.

He is on summer break.

And he was watching math.

Unless I was dreaming.

Except it was math.

So, you know, that would have been a scary, scary nightmare.

Earlier this week, we had to take Thirteen and Seven to the veterinarian, and all the men in my house made sure the two knew exactly who they should blame for the upcoming invasion of their manhood.

“Whatever happens tomorrow,” my husband murmured to them as he scratched their ears, “blame Mom.”

“I told her not to,” Younger sympathized with them, as he stroked their backs. “I’m sorry. She wouldn’t listen.”

So the two cats had to spend the night trapped in the bedroom with my husband and me and without food and water. So to keep them from sprinting for water as soon as they escaped the bedroom, I had Younger position himself outside the door.

“You ready,” I asked, bending to scoop Seven into my arms.

“Yep,” Younger said from his side of the door.

I wrapped my fingers around the door handle. “You sure?”

“Yep,” Younger repeated, brimming with confidence.

I opened the door, immediately having to wrap both arms around Seven who was wriggling frantically in my hold. But I still caught sight of the black streak hitting the stairs at about thirty miles an hour. And Younger, reacting a few seconds too late, straightening to his feet to hit the stairs at about two miles an hour.

“You had one job, Younger,” I told him as we urged the reluctant cats into the carriers. “One job.”

“Mom,” he told me, shaking his head. “I was crouched down, ready for a grounder. That cat bounced at the wrong time.”

And my morning was not yet over because I still had to answer the office manager’s simple question of “And what are the names of your fur kids?”

“Well, one is Seven.”

Her pen paused as she peered upward at me.

“Yeah,” I nodded. “Like the number.”

She filled in the name and moved to the second round of paperwork. “And the other one?”

“Uhmm, Thirteen.” And with her second look, I added, defensively, “I have math kids.”

We look like a normal family.

I think.

Sigh.