The Right Turns At The Right Time?

I sent you a screenshot last night. You never responded, which in itself wasn’t that surprising. It’s Friday night, you’re cheering at a soccer game under the lights…I’m sure the boys were around, feeling the weekend and you certainly weren’t thinking about four years ago when you decided to move away – and were you making the right turns at the right time.

right turns
2013, first day at Sugar Bowl Ski Academy

You look so young here, and at the time I felt so sure you were old enough for this. I remember sobbing in the back seat of the Highlander right after we left you – big, heaving, snotty sobs that felt so alone and empty, even though your dad and sister were in the front seats pretending to not hear me. I remember thinking if this was the “safe” track for you, or if I should listen to Gretchen Rubin when she said in her book Happier at Home, “I know many people who started out on a “safe”, parent-approved track, only to leave it – voluntarily or involuntarily-after they’d spent a lot of time, effort, and money to pursue a course that had never attracted them…it’s painful to see your children risk failure or disappointment, or pursue activities that seem like a waste of time, effort and money. But we parents don’t really know what’s safe, or a waste of time.”

Four years later, I’m still thinking about that.

I caught a bit of your conversation the other night, in the kitchen while you were building tacos with your dad. He loves it when you ask questions and talk about times you used to spend together. To say that those are moments he’d like to repeat is just a mild way of us wondering if we’ve made the right choices – if you’ve turned the corners you’re supposed to turn if we’ve gotten in your way enough or stepped aside at the right or wrong times.

right turn
2017 with his dad.

Persistence. When that post popped up today, three years after my questioning why I write, I felt proud that I’ve kept going. My life is good now, truly. You’re on a much different path than the one we imagined for you as you stood outside that ski academy, hair freshly shaved short and your chest proudly pushed out as if you’d won – you made it, you convinced us, you got the scholarship and you were there.

I wonder now how nervous you actually were – how much your fourteen-year-old self wouldn’t actually admit to mom and dad about your decision.

But you were persistent. You never stopped pushing until you got where you wanted to be. Somewhere inside you there has always been a voice telling you what to do, when to pull back and when to turn.

I wonder what that voice is telling you now, in the middle of your final year of childhood –  a year of firsts and lasts and decisions you want to make all by yourself.

As you walked out the door with the boys last night, I reminded you (and your friends) to make good choices. “I’m 18, mom,” you quipped, and almost in unison, they said “17” right behind you.

“My parents always use that one on me – I’m 17, I’m not old enough,” the lanky kid replied. “I know when I’m 18 they’re just going to say that it doesn’t matter, you’re living in my house, blah-blah-blah.”

I closed the door, his words ringing in my ears. Of course! my mind echoed…you’re still learning, you don’t know how one wrong move tonight could change the course of next year. All that you’ve worked for, your whole childhood, gone POOF in one wrong move. Of course, your parents are struggling – watching you walk out the door with just a tendril of childhood left is terrifying in its finality, and bittersweet in its reality.

These boys…do they get this interlude between here and there? That these moments of senior portraits and soccer games, Winter Balls and college applications, semester GPAs and next steps – these moments transition both of us into places we’re sure and unsure of, tight-roping the season of being here and going there?

right turns
2014, right turns.

And just one year after we left you in that dorm, full of focus and your future I was watching you balance in a different way, unsteady on your broken leg yet persistent in your dreams. Then, as now, you were unphased by the new direction, sure and steady in your gaze forward.

You were testing, pushing, dreaming, feeling it – just like now. And just like then, a quiet understanding floods over me, a flicker of letting go and breathing in, out…and smiling as you whirl away.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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This Moment

Donner Summit LookoutA Saturday afternoon on Donner Summit. We’d been up early-early enough for the sunrise. The brisk morning air shocked my senses, sending me shivering for a warm sweater; my body obviously not adapted from the valley summer to the mountain fall. On the drive up to Sugar Bowl that morning, John asked Cameron if someday he thought he’d ever get up to the train tunnels. “Someday,” Cam replied.

It’s been a particularly busy fall so far. As high school draws to a close for my oldest, afternoons and weekends are bursting with college applications, essay drafts and redrafts, and ‘lasts’ – last first day of school, last homecoming, last SAT test…so saturated are the days that I find myself rolling out of bed in the morning wondering how I’ll possible have the energy to make it to bedtime. The morning rituals of coffee, journal and quiet help me to center and make it through, but I find myself heaving a huge sigh as the last activity concludes and I sink back into my chair, spent from the exertion of teaching, mothering, and just being. Too many things pushed aside for someday, not today.

Driving down old 40 that morning, Donner Lake sparkled sapphire blue in the distance. A quick cup of coffee beckoned on our afternoon break in Truckee, desperately required to make the final push through the afternoon and evening festivities. Taking advantage of the blue skies and absence of snow, rock climbers scaled the granite walls and tourists pulled into the overlook to gasp at the Tahoe vista. Enchanted by the natural beauty, we too pulled off for a peek.

I paused at the majesty of the crystal blue lake, shimmering below the peaks tinged with white. As fluffy white clouds silently drifted by, a flash of red caught the corner of my eye. My boy, unharnessed, clambered up the boulder to my right and smiled broadly as I walked towards him. “Hold on, Mom, I’ll meet you around back.” My maternal instinct flared, sure that it wasn’t a good idea. Old 40 snaked beneath him. He was so confident, so happy, I couldn’t tether him in.

He eventually reappeared, energized from his accomplishment. I exhaled the breath I’d been holding, climbed back in the car, visions of fresh brew in my mind.

“Turn off here, Mom,” he shouted from the back seat. The Prius shuddered a bit as I hit the brakes, not sure what he wanted. “Let’s hike to the train tunnels!”

I saw the moments ticking by. Seriously? The tunnels, normally buried by snow, towered what seemed to be miles above us. As I pulled into the turn out, I wasn’t convinced it was even feasible. “Come on, Mom. Let’s do it!” he pleaded.

I stopped the car and he hopped out the back seat, reckless abandon in his eyes. “I’ll be right back,” he grinned.

All my body wanted to do was sink into the driver’s seat, pull out my book and wait. But as I looked into his eyes, the choice became clear. “Hold on,” I replied. “I’m coming with you.”

Cam smiled as we stepped into the brush. No trail in sight, he jumped from boulder to boulder as my eyes scanned a more sensible route. “Thanks, Mom. I really needed this. I’ve been cooped up way too long.” As he veered left, my common sense went right and I called out “meet you at the top” with hesitancy as he quickly disappeared from view.

Not as bad as I imagined, I made it to the tracks quickly. Of course, he was nowhere in sight. A sudden movement caught my eye, and his head popped into view, his body clinging to granite. “Hurry up,” I called to the distance. I was eager to get up and down, my impatience growing.

“Coming, Mom,” he shouted as I approached the top. For years I’ve driven below the rectangular tunnels, visions of Chinese workers laying tracks and the Donner Party floating through my mind.

Graffiti on Donner Summit Train TunnelTo my surprise, all that lay before me was a dirt road running past graffiti laden walls, no tracks anywhere to be seen.

My disappointment was quickly distracted by the sight of my son, arms spread wide to the world atop the tunnel. I sighed before shouting my warning as he began scampering away from me. Impossible to see the depth of danger he was in, I followed along from the bottom, somehow thinking that if he lost his footing I’d be there to catch him. The wind was picking up. I heard a train whistle sound in the distance.

Train Tunnels at Donner Pass

My protective instinct took over as he hovered, one foot poised to jump to the loose granite below. “Don’t jump,” I called as he swung his arms and did it anyway.

Donner SummitHe landed, proudly smiling the whole way back down to me. I hugged him and began to walk back to the tunnel.

“Stop, Mom,” he called. “Let me take a picture for your blog.”

Along Donner Summit Train Tunnel roadMy heart, still pounding from his death-defying leap, swelled a bit as I slowed down. The breeze was tossing my hair, cool as it touched my skin.

“Mom!” his voice broke the air. “Take a picture!”

My eyes found him horizontal, face down on the concrete beam. “Take it shooting up towards the sky!” he directed. I snapped the shutter just as the clouds drifted by.

Donner Pass TrainMy Keens slipped as they hit the loose gravel. I descended carefully, feeling my years juxtaposed against his youth. This time, though, we traveled together, watching the climbers scale down the rock to our right. “Aren’t you glad we did this, Mom?” he whispered.

I hesitated before responding, reflecting on all the walks we took when he was a little boy, pausing to remember his face as he discovered rocks, sticks, and treasures along the way. Peering into his deep brown 14-year-old eyes, my throat tightened, my eyes welling up with tears.

“I really am, buddy,” I replied. “I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be right now.” Looking up, the hiker’s trail marker came into view, assuring me we were on the right path. Together.

Tahoe Rock Trail markerHe was right – we did really need this. Someday is today.

The coffee could wait – this moment would never come again.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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