Ten short months ago, we received word that Mississippi State University wanted Chris. (Cue the Billy Squier music.) Ten short months ago, we broke the news to the kids. Sam and Gus smiled nervously and nodded their tentative approval, George bit back tears, Mary Claire exploded into full-on, body-thrashing, vitriol-spewing anger.
“Nooooooooo!!!!” she screamed as she swung at me with her fists, then sank to the floor in a crying heap of tears. “I won’t go! I won’t go! I won’t!” It was a scene from a movie — a scene plucked directly from the highest-angst pre-teen soap opera of a movie you could possibly envision. My heart broke for her.
This was a Big Deal for us. For all of us.
The sale of our Indiana home was, quite simply, a nightmare. The perpetual cleaning, the showings, the packing up while we were still trying to live a somewhat normal life, the bereft and nervous dogs, the heavy financial loss in the end. Had it not been for our calm and caring and diligent and tenacious realtor — and a great deal of wine — we might not have made it out alive.
Then we moved from house to house while we said our goodbyes, loaded up the Tahoe, and headed South. We knew no one. Knew nothing about this small town we would soon call home.
On the first day of school, I dropped my kids off via the carpool line and watched them march like brave little soldiers into that vast unknown. There are armed security guards here. We were all a bit taken aback.
And today, six months later, they are knocking my socks off.
Once he walked through those high school doors for the first time, Sam never looked back. With his easy manner and his witty charm, he made friends instantly. A gaggle of girls is always waving to him, always hugging him hello or goodbye. He’s made straight A’s thus far. He’s spearheading a new lacrosse club in a town that’s never even seen a lacrosse stick. He’s driving — over curbs more often than not — but he’s making his way. His teachers love him, he has a vast array of friends, his demeanor in the morning is still questionable, but we all have our moments…
Gus has a wider circle of friends than he’s ever known. He’s found his niche in band, lugs that heavy ass baritone around like it’s another appendage. He’s joined the Junior Historical Society — is going on a field trip to Jackson tomorrow and a week-long excursion to Washington DC this summer. He was just invited to join the Junior National Honor Society based on his stellar grades. He was nominated to compete in the school spelling bee. Sure, he was sent to ISS for a day early in the year. As a matter of fact, it was the day after he won an Armstrong Middle School Achievement Award. We don’t necessarily condone days spent in ISS, but I must admit that this one caused a little cheerleader flip somewhere deep in the recesses of my soul. He got pushed around, and he pushed back. He didn’t cry, didn’t immediately fall into his well-established and familiar victim role. He. Pushed. Back. Just this once, I was okay with that.
And Mary Claire. Dramatic, emotional, super-charged with budding hormones. This girl has gone from downright pissed off to full steam ahead. Basketball? Sure. Volleyball? Of course. Audition for the school musical by belting out some Adele in front of an auditorium full of strangers? No problem. Start a petition to eliminate school uniforms? Yup. She, too, was just invited to join the Junior National Honor Society. She set a goal to make straight A’s and achieved it. Out of the blue, her art teacher called yesterday to tell us what a joy she is to have in class, how much she’s growing as an artist. (Thanks, Jeryl.)
And George. Oh, George. Always a bit put-upon, always one to engage in a foofaraw. (Look it up. It’s our favorite. There’s no better word to describe the antics of our youngest. When he begins to wind up, Chris and I simply sing, “FOOFARAW! FOOFARAW!” and he goes running to his room to slam the door and pout.) Since being admitted to the academically talented program for fourth graders, he’s become a new kid. He’s made a couple of good friends and that’s more than enough for George. He’s a “one friend” kind of kid. He just needs one. Having a couple is a veritable Friend Banquet. He’s reading at the highest level in his class, he’s making straight A’s, he was nominated for a gifted and talented program out of Duke University, he’s one of his classroom representatives at the school spelling bee. (TWO of my kids in the spelling bee. “Be still my heart,” she says as she clutches her Hancock County Regional Spelling Bee trophy to her chest…)
Life isn’t always easy, and these kids have learned how to move forward and adapt. Had we not pulled them out of the familiarity of the only comfort zone they’d ever known, they would have never had this opportunity to blaze new trails, to discover new lands, to perfect the Southern art of the “Yes, Ma’am.”
It has been our gift and our privilege to watch them break out of their cocoons and test their new wings. During an interview yesterday, I was asked what some of my greatest career obstacles have been. I replied, “I don’t really believe in obstacles. To me, perceived obstacles are just an opportunity to find a different way.”
My kids are finding a different way. I’m so damn proud of them, so honored to be their mom.
But you know what fills my heart even more than their academic accolades? Their smiles. Their willingness to engage with each other. High-stakes, high-decibel-level games of “Apples to Apples” around the dinner table. Sam’s jaunty swagger when he walks into the high school. Mary Claire’s eye-rolling, “Mom, you’re SO embarrassing in front of my friends.” Gus’s eagerness to ride his bike to Vinny’s for a sleepover. George playing Legos for hours with Ben. They are happy, well-adjusted, comfortable in their own skin. I’m all for a curious and expanding mind, but a full heart and an eager smile? Yes, please. More of that, please. Kindness, laughter. I’ll always choose those first.
What a gift.