Thursday, June 6, 2013

When We Paddled to the Sea

I didn't think it was going to happen this time. I really didn't.

Y'all remember how I carried on some when Ellie graduated, right? All that blubbery where-has-the-time-gone nonsense? Well, Joel has technically graduated. I say technically because not only has he been homeschooled, he's been unschooled. In fact, I'm not sure he knows he's graduated. *Note to self: Inform Joel he's graduated.

Whereas Ellie desserted me and left for college, Joel will be hanging around for at least a couple of years. In the fall he'll be attending a community college to study Film. Currently, he's lifeguarding and he has Big Plans that include Bartending School because OF COURSE HE DOES.

It's been less stressful than when Ellie graduated -- no testing or application processing or compiling of educational portfolios. Although, the community college website with it's 1,000,000 words in seemingly no logical order and indiscriminate use of the words and and or....THEY DO NOT MEAN THE SAME THING COMMUNITY COLLEGE, I might need a stiff drink. Which is no problem because hey - my son is about to become an Alcoholic Beverage Mixology Specialist. 

Anyway, back to how well I was doing. I was doing spectacularly well with the not crying and the not weeping and the not wanting to sing "Regrets, I've Had a Few...." But then - THEN - I came across Paddle to the Sea while looking for another book. I flipped it open, and dang, the sting hit my eyes immediately.

When I first began homeschooling, it was just Joel. He's the reason we homeschool. Diagnosed with more communication and learning disabilities than one can comfortably store in short-term memory - school didn't work too well for him. And I didn't know how to homeschool him, either. But I knew how to hang out with him. I knew how to laugh and dream with him. And I knew how to read to him. So I did all of those things. A lot.

Paddle to the Sea was our first "school book." It was a time of late mornings and slow afternoons. It was soft, comfy chairs and scratchy green grass...tadpoles and turtles...Batman and soccer games. It was when we slowly gained our confidence--in ourselves and in each other. With a school full of people who didn't know what to do, a specialist who said Joel might never learn to read, and family and friends who questioned our choices, all we had was ourselves in those early days of Paddle to the Sea. And no matter how scared I became, no matter how uncertain...Joel remained a ray of sunshine lighting the darkest corners.

Joel can not only read, he can read in two languages. He's written scripts, won awards for extreme creativity, and he's competed on an international level in creative problem solving. He's made goofy movies with his friends, and he's worked as a Grip in Training on a real short film. He's a certified lifeguard and a black belt in tae kwon do. In short, he's a success.

I did that.

When Ellie graduated, I felt a sense of panic over all the things I thought I hadn't done. Ellie, I said. I didn't take you to enough museums. I should have taken you to more museums.... It went on and on. I don't know why I felt that way. With all of her accomplishments, why did I feel that way? Why did I feel I'd fallen short? Honestly, she didn't seem to need me that much. Maybe it was a relief, albeit a guilty one. Because I was needed elsewhere.

I worked for Joel. I championed him. I fought for him.

And I won.

I looked at Paddle to the Sea with its frayed cover and wrinkled, dirty pages. I could see the chubby, dirty fingers pointing at the pictures. I could feel the little-boy heat emanating from a sweaty, fidgety body. But I couldn't touch that child. I couldn't pick him up and snuggle him on my lap and turn the page...because we've turned a page. 

I'm the mother of a man now. A man who reads the New York Times and drives to work and says, "I'm heading to the coast with my friends -- see you in a couple of days, Mom."

Dear God, I love that man.

But today I missed my little boy. He's paddled off to the sea without me.

I'm forced to leave you with the cutest baby picture IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. And while you ooh and ahh over it, please keep in mind that Joel will be posing for his Senior Pics next a silk smoking jacket. On a bearskin rug. With a pipe.