Thursday, May 21, 2009
College: The return
I'm trying to keep a sense of humor about freshman son's arrival home and subsequent bad mood. Reduced to zipping up my mouth lest I say the wrong thing. "Yeah well I'm not used to being around adults," he says. "But I'm your mother" I say, in horror, and realize immediately it's completely the worst thing I could have said. An army-sized duffel bag arrived, so heavy it took two of us to lift it from the car, filled with dirty laundry (and three books, one of them Kant). The piles are so marvellously huge that I had to take a picture. The last time he inspired me in this way was age 18 months when he fell bottom first into a huge pasta pan which was on the kitchen floor -- brilliant mamma thought that with a wooden spoon it would make a super drum. His arms and legs were sticking out and flailing and his face was contorted while he wailed, in his bright red and green striped BabyGap onesie pyjamas. Being the horrible mother that I am, I left him there while I fished out my camera and quickly snapped a picture.
In all fairness, the day didn't start well. I picked him up at LAX having come straight from the barn, wearing my breeches, a yellow & white checked shirt, and white Converse sneakers. And what is he wearing? Jeans, a pink and white checked shirt, and white Converse sneakers. We haul about eight suitcases into the Prius which groans a little under the weight. "Come on, let's go to Umamiburger for lunch," I say. "Um, I'm not going anywhere with you dressed like this," he says, "It's gonna look like I tried to dress like my mom." "But isn't that sweet" I say, "I mean, we haven't seen each other for months and look, we're both so stylish." He scowls at me. Oops.
An In 'N Out Burger cheers him up. No end. He orders a double double protein style with fries and a Dr Pepper. I order an animal style hamburger and a small coke. "No cheeseburger?" he asks, "Man, cheeseburgers are the best." As I've wolfed down an iced coffee with milk from Starbucks while waiting nervously for him to arrive at LAX, I'm a bit lactosed-out. (Oh my English friends will crucify me over that sentence). We share fries while we drive up Robertson. He tells me about econ, about his finals, about how his roomate smells rank. I listen and wonder if I should open my mouth at all. We haven't found our equilibrium; we're still doing that dance you do when you haven't seen a friend for a while. I don't want to play the parent but I don't want to play the over-friendly dork either. I'm a bit stuck. A bit paralyzed. I steal more fries and put up with his critique of my driving. I want to smack him. I don't.
The light is pretty and dappled and Virgin Suicides driving up Laurel Canyon. The hillsides are turning brown. "It's a pity you missed the green," I say. "We had a month of green, beautiful green." "Yeah," he says, staring into his phone, texting his friends. The phone rings. "Hey, how's it goin'" he drawls into his phone, smiling. "You frill?" This language is strange and odd. I sort of smile and keep driving in my checked yellow shirt and my yellow hair band and I feel so much like a "mom" I'm not sure what to do with myself. "What does 'frill' mean darling?" I say, when the call is over, all up-beat and chipper and sounding like my mamma. "For. Real" he annunciates and stares out the window. OK I'm the dunce at the back of the class. I wonder, slightly, whether I should say things like "Peace Out" when I finish a phone call. Would my friends laugh at me?
We pull up to the house and he walks to the back of the car, pulls out the bags. I lift a backpack out and lumber with it towards the door. "I got it" he growls at me, throwing bags onto the driveway. The dogs rush at him. He ignores them. The sun is shining brightly. "Say hi to the dogs," I say, "they missed you."