The whiplashing, topsy-turvy, never-ending road to college in my house, I figured, would be paved (littered) with the following items:
–Speedos, worn out and faded from successful 200-meter butterfly swims in under 50 seconds.
–a kick-ass rocket.
–some black belts.
–a few broken violin strings that snapped during a rousing rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which would garner 50,000 views.
Oh, and over 5,000 hours of volunteer water temperature testing for the Orca Conservancy, which would be super, off-the-charts cool. I would have cooked up a lot more feats of college application stunts (captain training internships for the Carnival Cruise Line, submarine building, aeronautical jazz), had there not been an “intervention,” which went something like this:
“Mom, I don’t have the energy to do all of these things. It’s hard enough for me to go to school, do well in my classes, and swim on a swim team, which is taking up a lot of time.”
“Can’t we just slip in a ceramics competition? Also, some people your age are flying planes to different areas of the country and then, when they land, they repair cars for people for free. It’s a bit of a time commitment, but if it’s too much, you can also learn to use the sewing machine and do some tailoring on the side. Does any of this interest you?”
And, as I get up to research more “low-key” ways to get into college, my husband stops me.
“If you keep pushing him and suggesting things,” he says, “he’ll do nothing but sleep all day in his room.”
The horrifying thought of my son lounging away his most fruitful years of wooing admissions counselors with state champion fire-breathing tricks made me reconsider my approach. And then, the pandemic hit, and he hung up his Speedos, with this explanation:
“Swim just got to be too competitive. I need to swim for myself. Not to beat a time on a clock.”
“That’s wonderful!” I replied. “Along those lines, we could maybe pick up a wetsuit for you and then you could swim the entire Puget Sound and raise money for charity—I’m sure no other teen has done that before. What do you think?”
My son left the room, which should have been a hint for me to back off, but no. I kept reading about amazing pandemic teens who sewed masks for thousands of health-care workers and who flew planes to drop off supplies.
Pushing my tactics “underground,” I secretly signed my son up for virtual 5K charity races and asked him, “Hey, you want to help your mom run around the neighborhood a few times? Keep me company?”
And he’d said, “Sure, why not?”
And then, I’d handed him a medal when we finished, and I said, “Bam! You just saved a sick af sea turtle! Now, go write this down so we can keep track.”
He just rolled his eyes and did other things that were meaningful for him, like paint beautiful flowers and send them to literary magazines that needed art—and start a mental health club at his school—and run it during a pandemic. And, he grew plants. Lots of plants and container gardens. I think topiaries are in our not-so-distant future—and maybe an orchard in the living room. He even applied to exactly two universities (I suggested ten for good measure), and he got into both of them, so he knew what he was doing, without my help.
However, I worry about him. Even college is fraught with competition for that first job or entrance into graduate school. He’ll need to get his P’s in order: patents, publications, and presentations at national conferences.
And then, I look at him in his pandemic lounge-wear as he works on math problems that truly give him joy and waters all of his plants, and I think: He’ll be just fine—my minimalist who does great, great things quietly, steadily, leaving a trail of green plant-like stuff and a half-finished canvas of sorts that I don’t quite recognize—until I turn it sideways and realize that it’s a portrait of me—his mother—and I’ve got a medal wrapped tightly around my neck. I’m also wearing a wetsuit, and the Puget Sound is in the background. The title Intervention hangs in the clouds.