Wednesday, August 17, 2016

An Open Letter to Miles

On your 10th birthday, you were playing in a rec-league basketball game. You were tall even at a young age, so people always had high expectations for what you'd be able to do on the court. But let's face it, at 10, you weren't the team's star player. In fact, in that particular game, you hadn't been able to score once. Your team-members began to shake their heads every time you missed a shot (I devised various murder plots for each of the head-shakers as I pleaded to the "basketball gods" to end my misery and let the game end quickly!). Finally, it came down to a few seconds to go and somebody passed you the ball. Everyone gasped collectively as you turned to face the basket, heaving it into the air for the win. It clunked so loudly when hit the floor instead of the backboard that I restrained myself from "shushing" it. The cheers from other  team's fan's were startlingly loud (they thought they'd won the game). But miraculously enough, someone had fouled you before the ball left your hands. So, amid the din of all of the shouting from both sides, with your team down by 1 point, you went to the line with 10 seconds left. The gym air that had been heavy with the moist smell of basketball-boy sweat, was now alive with tension. All of the dad's on our team stood up in unison and began to shout out encouragements. I sat there on the bleachers, rocking back and forth and biting my lower lip. The entire game was resting on whether or not you could make your free throws. Make one and you tie the game. Make them both and we win. Make neither and well...

You looked back at your dad and I with a plaintive glance. Putting my hand on your dad's arm and raising my other fist in the air, I gave you my best "you can do it!" smile. I knew I that had to somehow give you the confidence you needed to make this shot. This was your shot! You practiced free throws at home. If I could just somehow get you to look at me again, I knew I could give the confidence you needed!

Just then I saw your own teammate, the star point guard smack his forehead with exaggerated frustration, while your some of your other teammates shook their heads and looked over in your direction. I hoped with all of my heart that you didn't see the head-smacking and shaking. I forced myself to turn my attention away from trying to cut them with my eyes, and toward giving you the confidence to make this one shot.

Don't let him miss, I thought​, and I will never, ever ask for another thing!

I left my seat and fell to my knees beside it, looking up toward the ceiling, my eyes filling with tears.
"Please," I said whispered out loud, "it's his birthday. The actual day of his birth. If he misses this shot the team won't celebrate him when we all go out to pizza afterward. Please! Let him know he can make it! I'm not asking for a win. Just let him make this one shot. Just this one little shot. Just don't let him miss. I'll never ask for anything again. Please..."
The gym was suddenly soundless as the ref tossed you the ball. I sat back up on the bleacher-seat and squeezed my hands together, mouthing "please, please, please, please" under my breath.

I'll do something to stop the game! I thought wildly. ​ I'll go lay down across the court and they'll have to call the game off.
Your dad must have seen/felt my panic because he put his hand on my arm as if to settle me. "Look," he said, pointing toward you.
And I did. You stood there, lining up the shot, bending your knees and then straightening up. How could I not have seen it before? You didn't look scared at all. You looked so sure of yourself. I had a minor shift in that moment.

Hallelujah! Maybe my prayer worked! Maybe he's going to make it!

I gripped your dad's shoulder and the hand of the mom sitting next to me as I continued to mouth "please, please, please, please."
But all at once, I heard a voice in my head. It was calm and clear above the fan-screaming which had now reached fever pitch.

What if my prayer actually does work?

I sat back against the wall like a giant hand was pushing me.
"What if my prayer works and I rob you of the experience of losing this game and learning some valuable lesson?" I whispered to the ceiling. "Maybe you are supposed to sink the winning shot, but maybe, just maybe, you're not."

I can't ask for you to make this shot. I don't know what experience you need to have.

Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity and I knew what I had to do. Before you released the ball, I quickly dropped back down to my knees and looked up toward the ceiling.
"Scratch that first one," I whispered hastily. "Thank you for letting me be here to share in whatever experience Miles needs to have now. Thank you for allowing me to be present. Thank you for letting me be here to comfort him if he loses or celebrate with him if he wins. Thank you."

I blinked tears out of my eyes as I took my seat on the bench again (I'm sure your dad thought I was crazy with all the tears and getting up and down!). Without looking around this time, you released the ball toward the rim. You were an archer letting his arrow soar high into the air. The ball flew up in a perfect semi-circle and then landed j​ust on the side of the rim, bouncing  noisily to the floor. There was a murmuring among the crowd. One of your teammates walked over and slapped your open palm and said something to you with a nod of encouragement (I wanted to run over to him and kiss him!). You nodded back at him and prepared for your second shot. Again, it went straight toward the basket, but it was like the hoop had an invisible lid on it. The ball spun and then rolled to the side, landing on the floor underneath with a dull thud.

The game was over.

The point of this story is that not only did you survive that day eight and a half year's ago, you've thrived. You've become this social, brilliant, funny, resilient young man. And had I interfered with your experience that day (by throwing myself out on the court or through divine influence), had I been able to manipulate any of these events so that y​ou​ would have been "okay" (thereby making me more comfortable), things may have turned out differently for you. In two weeks you'll start your senior year of high school -- your final year. And last Friday you and I started planning next year's annual summer road trip. Next year, we'll be driving across the country and dropping you off in New York for school. Next year, for the first time, you won't be returning home with the rest of us after we get to our final destination at the end of the summer.

For the past few days I have been gripped alternately by stomach flops (along with trembling hands) and a deep sense of melancholy. You're going to New York City for school next June. I don't know what could possibly fill the Miles-sized hole that will be left in our home. I've always loved our summers. A lot of parents can't wait for summer to be over and things to get back to "normal." Not me. I dread the end of summer. I hate that first day of school. I LOVE spending time with you and your brother, lazy mornings, movie nights, dinner in front of the big tv. But the end of summer 2016 seems to be racing to a conclusion at an amazing speed. I didn't really want to think about it before, but it has been, will be, my last summer with "high school Miles."

I started to wallow in self pity yesterday. I wanted to change your mind about going away.
I thought, ​There are really great schools right here in California. Maybe I can persuade him to take a second look at that one near San Jose?

I have to ask myself, what is the truth here. Why do I feel like I'm losing you? Am I really that afraid of letting you go to New York for school? Or am I afraid to let go of ​the ideal​ that I've held on to all of these years? The ideal that you are mine "for keeps" and that you continue to exist simply because I've kept you safe from harm.

And the truth is, somewhere inside me I really do believe that I keep you safe from the world and I believe that when we drop you off in New York next summer that I'll be losing you. Those ideas are very real for me at times. But there are more truths if I dig a little deeper. Truths which I need to look at if I'm not going to over-burden you with the notion that I will be lost when you leave in June. I keep thinking about things like, when "our" fall TV shows come on next year, we won't get to watch them together and rehash all of the dialogue. I won't smile at night when the front door slams because it means you've driven home safely from basketball practice. I'll miss our Sunday dinners together, since you won't be there to cook (and use every dish in the kitchen)! I'll miss our those nightly talks with our heads together before you go to sleep. And it's true that I sleep the soundest when I know that you're safe and secure in your bedroom for the night. All of these things are true.

But if I dig even deeper I find that there are many more truths. Truth's like the fact that I'm excited for you because you are going away to school! I never got to do what you're doing. I wish that I had. And the truth that you're not going away forever -- your program is an accelerated one. In fact, you'll be back faster than most kids who go to 4-year institutions (you'll also be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas)! And I can't tell myself that you're too irresponsible or that I'll worry too much about how you'll take care of yourself without me.

You've been grocery shopping and cooking meals since you were 10. You shower and brush your teeth every night without being told. You make your own barber shop appointments and restaurant reservations. You've filled out your own W2 form. And as far as being responsible goes, I've seen you pack yourself for long trips and successfully navigate the Midwest, the eastern seaboard, Hawaii and Europe without either me or your dad. The truth is that you've  grown up. And as much as I love my little boy, I am confident that I will love the man you've grown into just as much -- if I give him a chance.

So, just like that day in the gym, instead of wishing that I could keep you mine. Wishing that I could keep you small and under my protection. Just like the day of your 10th birthday, I will be thankful. And I am so grateful Miles. What a gift you are. What a gift it has been being your mother who got to watch you grow from a sweet, curious little boy in to this tall, intelligent, amazing man. And rather than beg the "powers that be" to keep you small so that I can continue to perpetuate the illusion that it is I who keeps you safe, I am going to work on ​not presuming that I always know what's best for you. There are experiences that you need to have out there that I'm not going to like. But I know now that it doesn't mean that you shouldn't have them. You must have them, just as I did (and still do)! You will learn and grow from each one. Not only can I ​not​ protect you from that, but it would be small-minded of me even to try.

So here it goes: "Thank you for letting me be here to share in whatever experience Miles needs to have now. Thank you for allowing me to be present. Thank you for letting me be here to comfort him if he loses or celebrate with him if he wins. Thank you."

I love you, Miles.

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