It’s winter break and my son is home from college. Nightly my husband and I are jarred awake by his clang of a spoon against our one remaining ancient Corelle cereal bowl. He hadn’t managed to quite break them all by the age of 10 with his enthusiastic rounds of Nerf attack over breakfast.
In the dark as I press a pillow to my ears, unwilling to call him out, I am bitterly aware of the fact that no one ever warned me the sleeplessness of mothers lasted forever, or the way in which we parents seemingly forgive all faults when a grown child actually wants to come home to visit.
My daughter is regularly scandalized, insisting that her older brother gets away with everything now, so hostage are we to the golden light of his presence. She claims a shimmering aura follows him as this guy, now an almost unrecognizable, bearded (well, ok, goateed) adult, rising past noon, slides his six-foot plus lanky frame through the kitchen in search of sustenance, poking his sister under the arm as he skirts by her bent frame working on college applications.
Grabbing his long, curly hair reminiscent of my hippie husband in our youth, my delicate youngest yells, “Conditioner! Haven’t you heard of conditioner!” And a typical vacation day for the four of us begins as I separate them and continue to insist that she is wrong about his top rock star-like status.
It does, however, give one pause. Two years ago, my friends all told me how hard it would be to have my firstborn come home again, how tense. He’ll be used to being on his own, they warned. Somehow, though, that part is quite easy. My son had been accustomed to setting his own schedule since high school when he’d been given an old Nissan and a crushing 40-hour work week parking cars at the local casino to accompany full days of his senior year. College wasn’t going to pay for itself. He’d grown up fast and my husband and I were, frankly, too busy to fight it.
No, his independence was and is never an issue. It’s actually paid off in spades. He has thrived on his own at university, making us prouder than we could have imagined. The hard part is wondering, truly pondering, well… is he an actual rock star? Really. It’s not as if I hadn’t noticed it before. There was that cryptic Facebook post below his photo from a friend, “That’s your son? I thought it was a rock star.” Then there was the staring, the intense whispering, there was even that one woman who stopped us at Mean Cup and said, “Your son looks just like that guy from Extreme, you know the guitarist…”
Yes, obviously I know Nuno Bettencourt, the Portuguese-American guitarist with thick eyebrows and long, conditioned, hair. My family had joked that I’d finally married my rock star when my husband and I had tied the knot in 1994. But seriously… my son?!?! I’d changed this guy’s diapers, watched him chase through the house in underwear and a cape channeling Captain Underpants, or Superman, or whoever his latest obsession was. Thanks to a recent holiday-shopping experience, however, this shell-shocked mom is innocently questioning his star status no more. In fact, I may need a bit of therapy.
My son had helped select some glass flower pots for a friend of ours who was coming to dinner and we made our way to the check-out line, along with all of the other harried shoppers of the season. Needing a new pair of cheap readers, I was distractedly trying them on, while piling the glassware on the belt and greeting our cashier with a chipper hello. She looked up, her face went deadly serious as she briskly waved me to the left and said quite sternly, “Move.” Something terrible has happened, I thought in a panic, as I looked behind me and quickly shuffled out of the way scanning for the emergency.
Her voice came again, but gone were the strict tones. “My God, your son is gorgeous. Look at you. Look at your hair. You’re so tall. My God.” She laid her palms on her cheeks, staring at him in adoration. My face flushed and I was stunned into awkward giggling. I looked up and saw the crimson stain on my son’s face as well. He, too, was embarrassed and laughing. But she was undeterred, pressing on, turning to her co-workers, to other innocent we-just-want-to-get-home shoppers trapped in line behind us. “Look at him, my God. I don’t know if I can ring these up.” She started fumbling with our vases, continuing her many announcements to the store and its cornered audience. Her jumbled words seemed to last a full five minutes as I was mercifully thanking the heavens there was no mic at her station. As she fussed with wrapping the delicate glass, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, she suddenly crossed that line. “Let me try to get these wrapped for you, but I mean, I’m getting all ting…gl…y…”
Now, I am no shrinking violet, but this was beyond the pale. As this admittedly lovely but almost too-friendly young woman, continued to tell my son her entire life story, holding my purchases hostage, I avoided the looks of my fellow astonished shoppers. Eventually managing to somehow grab my bag, we made a dash for the door. “How old are you?” she called to my companion, clutching her hand to her chest, but we stayed the course, as if pursued by the paparazzi.
“Mom,” my son turned to me as we dashed for the car, “you were so embarrassed!”
“Weren’t you uncomfortable?!” I exclaimed.
“Eh…not as much as you,” he grunted and shrugged, folding into his seat and turning to catch the latest news on his phone, the incident already behind him.
Just a regular day for a rock star I realized, whose life, quite possibly true to my daughter’s words, is a series of events dazzled by that amorphous, rock star glitter, until he falls contentedly into his bed at night. I, however, may never sleep again.
— Vicki Austin
Vicki Austin, faculty and dorm parent at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School, lives with her husband, two children and 80 or so other teenage boys in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Vicki has more than 20 years of experience in many facets of education and is currently shifting her writing focus from persuasive to creative. Vicki’s most recent work has been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog, included in the online journals Projected Letters and Wraparound South and printed in The Walls Between Us: Essays in Search of Truth, a Juncture publication. You can find Vicki on Twitter @VickiAustin02 and offer her encouragement as she puts the finishing touches on her first novel.