On Friday mornings, I am the Middle School Carpool Mom for GForce and 2 other kids in the neighborhood. Friday mornings I don’t make any attempt to look presentable, so I’m usually in my dog walking uniform: Red Sox hat pulled down over my fright wig, dark green fleece pullover on top of a garish purple and yellow tie dye t-shirt that I got at my 20th college reunion, jeans, and whatever slip-on shoes I can find. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a 21st Century June Cleaver.
The other family we carpool with has a son in 8th grade and a daughter in 6th grade. The daughter hates being late and is usually very prompt in getting down to the car, but the son is always lagging behind, sometimes as many as 5 minutes later than the daughter. When he finally arrives, he often introduces a loud cloud of cologne or L’Air de Moth Balls into the car. On occasion, I have to open the windows because the smell is so intense.
This morning, Boy lumbered down the long set of stairs to the driveway wearing pajama pants and lugging a small guitar amplifier in one hand, and a stuffed bear backpack/lunchbox in the other. His regular backpack with all his school stuff was dangling precipitously off his shoulder. GForce usually plays DJ on my iPod during the morning ride, and today she was in the mood for the band, “The National.” She picked a perfect song for these middle schoolers, I thought as I listened to the pounding drums, the weirdly deep voice of the lead singer, the curious way he has of packing so many words into a melodic line, and the lyrics:
“You get mistaken for strangers by your own friends
When you pass them at night under the silvery, silvery Citibank lights
Arm in arm in arm and eyes and eyes glazing under
Oh, you wouldn’t want an angel watching over
Surprise, surprise they wouldn’t wanna watch
Another uninnocent, elegant fall into the unmagnificent lives of adults”
– from the song “Mistaken for Strangers” on The National’s 2007 album “The Boxer”
When we got to school, the kids got out of the car, and I sat for awhile and watched Boy lumber into the building with his heavy school backpack on his shoulder, his amp in one hand, and the fluffy stuffed bear lunchbox/backpack thingy in the other. It occurred to me that he was perhaps unwittingly illustrating the central riddle of adolescence: how do you move forward when one foot is on the skateboard of youth and the other foot is in one of those non-skid toddler socks?
Hours later I’m thinking that he was demonstrating what change and growth are like in general. In one hand we’re carrying the way things were or the way we thought they were until we just recently found out that they’re nothing like we thought. In the other hand we’re carrying the way things are or the way we hope they will be. And on our backs, we’ve brought along whatever we haven’t yet figured out how to put down.
All my daughters are either in the midst of big transitions or rapidly approaching big transitions. And then I think, well, so are PW and I, only in different ways. Come to think of it, so is everyone else I can think of. Maybe transition is the central riddle of being alive: breathing in and breathing out; picking up and putting down; holding close and letting go; reaching and stretching for things in different directions.
Friends of mine have just become the parents of twins. Another friend’s brother is in hospice. Another friend’s sister just died this morning. A childhood friend wrote me last night to say that his brother is having his foot amputated and would I please remember him to my parents and my brothers. Another childhood friend is struggling with the breakup from the one woman he thought he might marry. This is just a fraction of the emotional air I’m breathing today; I haven’t even gotten to my family yet!
Each of us is a hub through which pass not merely our own transitions, but the life transitions of the people we love, or the people we know and struggle to love, or the loved ones of the people we love, or the long-time friends we recently re-discovered or…
It’s a lot to carry.
Patty Larkin with Greg Brown singing “Here” from Larkin’s latest album “25”