I am in California for a week with my son. Jasper is checking out colleges that he has applied to but has not yet found out whether he has gotten into. Yesterday we were in beautiful LA. Sunny, hot, traffic congested LA. We agreed to drive a friend to her grandpa’s so she could catch an early morning flight without sleeping in the airport. Jasper and I spent 5 hours in stop and go traffic getting back to Santa Barbara. I had a lot of time to sneak sideways glances at my son. He had a lot of time to contemplate his future. We listened to a lot of music. His music. I don’t mind. I like most of what he listens to. Jasper will be leaving me for far away places at the end of this summer. It is another bittersweet loss.
After Jim died, I worried about Jasper the most. I felt like his dad was not done with him yet. He was too young…how was he going to grow into a man without a strong male role model like his dad? Of course, I have always worried about Jasper. He was a colicky infant and had chronic ear infections starting as soon as the colic abated. He didn’t walk until he was 18 months old, and talking didn’t emerge until 2 1/2. He never put pencil to paper until he was forced to in kindergarten, and then it was to create number lines. His one self-portrait included a stomach complete with esophagus, small intestine, and large intestine. He was bored by 1st grade, and I credit the gifted and talented teacher with re-engaging him in all that was good about education. Jasper went on all the ski trips, raft trips and forced march hikes of his childhood with the family. He rarely complained as long as we fed him enough and made sure to keep his skinny body warm. But, he was often absent behind a tune he was humming, a rhythm he was drumming, or thoughts that he did not want to share.
Right after Jim was diagnosed, I had a talk with Jasper. I told him that though his dad was likely to die, I did not need another spouse. I already had one, I did not need him to be a man. I needed him to continue being a teenaged boy, and I would continue to be his mom. The best mom I could be in the circumstances. I felt like I often fell short. Caring for someone during cancer is pretty all-consuming, and the grief after they die is a very self-absorbed time. I made sure there were groceries in the house, I made sure dinner was on the table, I made sure there was space and time for homework….and I left Jasper alone to process his grief in the way he needed to. When he struggled, I gently steered him in the direction of people who knew more than I did. I went to bed before he did most nights, I picked up his chores when I could tell the work load was high, I made sure there was money in his account for colleges that he chose to apply to, and I cheered at home cross-country and track meets. I left for weekends where, with food in the house and a hungry dog, he fed himself, and made sure the dog did not get hungry enough to eat him. I supported, financially and emotionally, his desire to see more of the world and to make his mark out there. Still, I worried. Jim was not done with him yet. I could not take him on all the daddy trips that Jim would have taken him on. I could not teach him to row class IV, to dig someone out of an avalanche, or how to ride that tricky switchback on Headwaters. I could only be who I was, his mom.
It’s been more than 2 years since we had that talk on the sidewalks outside Kootenai Medical Center. I’ve watched Jasper continue to excel in school, have a couple of girl friends, start his Wish Crane organization, and become a beautiful runner. When I take him skiing or mountain biking, he still does not complain as long as he is fed and warm, and I often hear him humming. He rows class IV with ease, and more importantly, can navigate the riffles to keep his passengers dry or wet depending on the weather. He is an elegant boater. He knows how to cook anything dessert or breakfast related, and cleans up the kitchen if I warn him when I will be getting home. I’ve also watched school presentations where his grace and poise astonish me. I’ve read college application essays that make me cry. On the plane trip down here, he noticed a young woman separated from her back pack during de-boarding and brought it to her. I see him come alive during an intellectual discussion with his uncle, or when surrounded by his peers during a college tour. He is intrigued by all the academic offerings, but notices that no one sits alone at the dining hall. Somehow, even without his dad, Jasper has become a man. A man who I am proud of….and his dad would be, too.
Folks have asked me how Jasper is handling his mom having a “new man” in her life. So…while stuck in traffic yesterday, or perhaps it was over lunch at Harvey Mudd, I asked how he was doing with it all. He just smiled and shrugged…and stated the obvious. “Well, you are gone every other weekend, or John is here. Nothing has really changed, and you are happy. He brings his old dog, and I try to pay a little more attention to Sadie while he is here, so she doesn’t feel jealous.” Jasper had a great dad. I guess I have been a good enough mom. He is my baby boy, and he is ready to go out into the world. My life will change again when he goes. I’m not worried about him. Sadie will miss him. I will miss him. But, I am oh so grateful to have this boy in my life.