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Eight years ago next month, Tom, Carey, and I loaded up Tom’s truck, my car, and Carey’s car with suitcases full of clothes; Rubbermaid containers full of bedding, power cords, school supplies, and toiletries; a computer; a stereo; a small refrigerator; and Carey’s bike before heading out to Lawrence to get her settled in the dorms for her freshman year at the University of Kansas. Like any other parent  moving his or her oldest off to college for the first time, I oscillated between feelings of elation and sadness. I was happy for Carey to be starting off on new adventures but sad because it felt very much like we were writing the first page of the last chapter of our lives with the kids as “kids.”

I distinctly remember noticing the Lawrence City Limit sign as we got to the edge of town that hot, muggy August afternoon and taking solace in the thought that we’d be making the trek to Lawrence for a long time to come. The way I figured it, Carey would be out there for at least four years and then Brian would be for at least another three or four after that. Geez. That would be nearly a decade by the time all was said and done. What was I being all gloomy about? It was going to be a long time before we would finish the chapter.

A long time, indeed. Last night, we wrote the final sentence when we moved the last load of Brian’s mountainous pile of stuff (I’m fighting the urge to use the word “crap” here) back home to Kansas City. I won’t lie. I did tear up a bit as we drove out of town. I reminisced about that hot August day eight years before and thought about all the fun times we’d had in Lawrence with both kids. Then I remembered what awaited me at home.

For the last three years, Brian has lived in a two-bedroom house with a two-car garage. During that time, he has amassed…well, he has amassed quite a collection of household goods, including–but not limited to–a queen-size bed, a large desk with an oversize desk chair, two TVs, stereo equipment, a washer and dryer, a side-by-side refrigerator, a small dorm-size refrigerator, a kitchen table with four chairs, an assortment of end tables, enough small appliances and kitchen paraphernalia to put any new bride to shame, a huge rolling tool chest, an air compressor, a shop vac, and enough neon signs to open his own bar. He also has lots of toys: a half dozen wakeboards and snowboards with bindings and boots, video games and accessories, boxes of DVDs, and a wakeboard boat. Oh, and then there are his clothes. Brian doesn’t like to do laundry, so he developed the habit of buying new socks, underwear, and t-shirts when the ones he had were too stinky to wear. I’m pretty sure he could go a whole semester without doing laundry. At least, he should be able to; we hauled home six huge plastic bags crammed full of mostly dirty socks, underwear… I tell you all this only because it’s NOW ALL IN OUR GARAGE! Well, not all of it. We did stack the bags of clothes in his bedroom and the boat is at the repair shop for a new part.

Before the weekend is over, Brian should have it all moved to the storage locker he’s rented, so our cars should only have to sit out on the driveway for a few more nights–and, if I’m lucky–I won’t need a shovel, or a hammer, or any of our other tools because there’s not a snowball’s chance that I COULD GET TO ANY OF IT. Okay, deep breath.

Brian called just a little bit ago to let me know he’d completed the check-out process with the leasing agent, and all had gone well. He also admitted to being more than a bit sad about saying good-bye to his home of three years. According to him, his years on 24th Street “were a blast.” In fact, he said, his entire college experience “couldn’t have been any better.” Well, what more could a mom ask for… except maybe to GET THAT CRAP OUTTA THE GARAGE!

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It’s official. Brian walked down the hill and into the alumni roles at the University of Kansas on Sunday. His name was even in the program. Right there in the first column on page 34. His full name. Official. Several family members have pointed out that the final grades still aren’t in, but, as far as I’m concerned, he’s a graduate. And as promised, he made his unique mark on the festivities. I’m including pictures to prove it.

Decked out in his graduation finest

Decked out in his graduation finest

He capped off this lovely and very dignified ensemble with a replica of Study Hall on his mortarboard. Study Hall is what Brian calls his boat. That way when his dad or I ask him what he’s up to, he can say–without lying–that he’s in study hall. Translation: I’m on the boat at the lake. Great pains went into adding the wakeboard, wakeboard tower, speakers, and waves. It was all Tom’s idea. I’m completely innocent. Not surprisingly, Brian was quite pleased with his father’s handiwork.

Study Hall

Study Hall

Aside from having to wait over two hours for all 4,000 plus graduates to walk through the Campanile and down the hill, Sunday was a perfect day. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful, and the party afterward couldn’t have gone any smoother. I’m grateful to all the family and friends who came over to help us celebrate. It was quite a crowd. I’m also grateful to Big Dawg BBQ for fixing probably the best meal we’ve ever served our guests. I can’t imagine that anyone went home hungry. A memorable day by any measure.

Brian walks through the campanile and down the hill at the University of Kansas on Sunday afternoon. For those of you who are not familiar with the graduation ceremony at KU, walking through the campanile and down the hill to the football stadium is considered the meat and potatoes of the festivities by most students and alumni. As a result, probably a good third of the graduates peel off at the entrance to the stadium and head to the bars or their own private parties to begin celebrating, leaving the rest–those poor suckers whose mothers and grandmothers have threatened them within an inch of their lives if they skip the pageantry of the “official” ceremony”–to walk into the stadium and endure the formalities. Brian will be walking into the stadium, but I’m not saying at whose insistence.

The Hill and Campanile at KU on Graduation Day

I have to admit, I thought Brian had screwed it all up long before he arrived on campus as a freshman. Legend has it that if you walk through the campanile before you are a bona fide graduate, you jinx yourself right out of ever graduating from the university. Just to make me crazy–I’m sure–Brian walked through the campanile when he was a senior in high school. Thankfully, the gods have a sense of humor and overlooked his youthful indiscretion, so he will be in the throng of blue robes marching down the hill on Sunday. His will not be a dignified march, however.

Tradition dictates that graduates put their own unique stamp on the festivities, and many do so with great verve. For example, when our daughter, Carey, graduated from KU three years ago, she festooned her mortarboard with a huge plastic brain–one of the tamer embellishments that day. It’s not unusual for the kid to carry balloons; throw streamers; tote giant beer mugs; hold stuffed Jayhawks, teddy bears, and flamingos or inflatable bananas. Some of them even carry boom boxes (do they still call them that?) and dance down the hill. It’s a party every step of the way. I’ll not steal Brian’s thunder by revealing his plans, but I promise pictures after it’s all over.

The "Brain"iac

The "Brain"iac

After graduation, we’ll return here to the house to celebrate with family and friends. We took the easy way out and ordered Brian’s favorite barbecue, so I won’t have much to do the night of the party. But that doesn’t mean I totally let myself off the hook. As is true most any time we host a large gathering, I’ve been obsessed with checking things off my long list of home-improvement projects–projects, in all honesty, that I’ve been ignoring since…well, since…last summer when we hosted Carey and Austin’s engagement party. Somehow long-ignored tasks become more urgent with company coming, so I’ve been painting, cleaning, scrubbing, weeding, planting, mulching, and running errands like a mad woman for the last several weeks. It’s silly. I know it’s silly, but it’s usually requires something rather dramatic to snap me out of the idiocy.

Yesterday was the day. Yesterday was mulching, the last straw (or wood chip). The weather wonks were promising torrential rain by late afternoon, so I got up early and began raking, fluffing, and flinging mulch like my rear was on fire, trying to get the stuff put down before the rains came and turned it all into a soggy mess. Then it didn’t rain. Stupid weather wonks. More to the point, stupid me. While soaking my aching muscles in a steaming hot shower afterward, I finally accepted the silliness of trying to cram months worth of tasks into a few short weeks. No one will notice or–if they do notice–care that the wood blinds haven’t been meticulously dusted or that the flower beds have a few bare spots where I’ve failed to get something planted. I know that. I’ve known that all along. I just forget.

Sanity restored, it’s time to put down my rake/paintbrush/dust cloth and pick up a wine glass to toast my son. We have accomplishments to celebrate, friends to catch up with, and food to eat. It should be a great weekend!

I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I certainly did. My goal was to get through the day without any mental or physical exertion. Mission accomplished. I slept late. Tom fixed my breakfast, retrieved the newspaper off the driveway (which I uncharacteristically got to read from front to back), and made the bed–upon which I promptly took a nap. Carey and Austin co-hosted a lovely Mother’s Day luncheon at Austin’s folks in the afternoon at which all I had to do was drink margaritas and engage in witty repartee. My children showered me  with lovely gifts, and Tom washed and vacuumed my car. It was a fabulous day. I suppose I did have to shower and put on makeup…

Yesterday was my 27th Mother’s Day. I wish I could tell you I remember my first Mother’s Day, but unfortunately I can’t. Carey would have only been about six weeks old at that point, so it’s safe to say I probably had dark circles under my eyes, baby barf on my shoulders, and two big wet spots on the front of my shirt where I’d leaked through my breast pads. I know my boobs were ginormous and my butt was months away from getting back into my jeans, but I honestly don’t recall being upset by any of it. I just remember being so excited to be a mom. I was only 23 when Carey was born–and she was an easy baby–so I operated under the “Naivete Is Bliss” rule for months after her arrival. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad way to fly. Tom will never let me forget how I used to pick her up as soon as I’d get out of bed in the morning and head out to sit in my rocker recliner to nurse her. When she was finished, I’d change her diaper and head back to the chair where we’d nap together–Carey in my arms–until she’d wake up again to eat. We’d repeat the process all day long until Tom returned from work in the evening to find us both still in our jammies. Whoops.

Really, Carey’s entire first year was pretty easy. I only remember two unpleasant episodes. The first was an ear infection in the middle of the night and the requisite hellish car ride to the emergency room. I will never ever forget one minute of that night, particularly being forced to stand out in the hallway while the doctor examined Carey. I was ready to rip someone’s head off–specifically that prune-faced nurse who all but shoved me out the door. Luckily, Tom (as always) was there to provide a more level-headed perspective.

The second episode was really more humbling than unpleasant; although, I’ll warn you right now to stop reading if you’re eating. On that occasion, I was reminded that no matter how else I might see myself, I was, always and forevermore–no exceptions–a mom. I had gotten all dressed up to go out with Tom and some friends. It was the mid-80s, so I had the big hair, a bright yellow sweater with a fringed scarf wrapped fashionably around my neck, tight jeans, high-heeled boots, and fake fingernails. I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. That is, until I went to the ladies’ room after dinner. There, as I washed my hands before returning to the table, I discovered a chunk of bright yellow, dried baby poop under one of fabulous fingernails. (I told you to stop reading if you were eating.) It’s not that my discovery wrecked the evening so much as it finally sealed the deal. There was no escaping the fact that my primary role in life was now Mom. The proof was under my fingernail.

By the time Brian came along, I was pretty well settled into the job. At least, at the time, I thought I was. Like Carey, he was an easy baby. Unfortunately, the two of us didn’t get to spend a lot of quiet time together when he was an infant because by then Carey was an active three-year-old. As an illustration of just how active, one day while I was putting Brian down for a nap, the phone rang. It was a neighbor about five houses up the street who had two daughters just a little older than Carey. We had only moved into the neighborhood a few months earlier, so I was mortified when my new neighbor–whom I barely knew–told me that Carey had just arrived at her house on her tricycle. What?! What!?

How in the world that child got the garage door up, I’ll never know. Thank goodness there was a sidewalk and she had enough sense to stay on it. That the neighbor didn’t call the authorities on me for negligence, I’ll be forever grateful.

When Carey started school, Brian and I finally got our one-on-one time together. One of my favorite memories is of our bike rides together. I would strap him into the seat on the back of my bicycle, and the two of us would peddle all over town, usually stopping at one of the city parks for a picnic lunch. He looked like a Weeble in his big ol’ bike helmet. I was crushed the day he told me he was too big to ride on the back of my bike anymore.  Just like I was crushed his first day of preschool when he told me I didn’t need to walk him into the building and crushed the day Carey dressed herself because she didn’t like the outfits I picked out.

That’s the insidious thing about motherhood. You think, “When in the world are you ever going to outgrow waking me up in the middle of the night…needing me to dress you…making a mess every time you eat? And then, I’ll be danged if they don’t do it, and you’re facing your 27th Mother’s Day and the only thing you’re responsible for is getting your own lazy backside into the shower. Your grown children are planning the festivities, preparing the food, and treating you like a queen.

I’m not complaining…exactly. I’m just saying…

My son, B-man, is graduating from college in a few weeks. He’s doing what we’ve been calling his victory lap this year. In general parlance, he’s a fifth-year senior. Whatever you call it, he’s definitely ready to be finished with college and move on. And, as you might guess, Tom and I feel much the same. Not that we minded a fifth year. We actually encouraged it, but five is enough.

B-man is a very bright kid, but he hates to read. It causes me physical pain to type those words. But it’s true. I actually raised a child who doesn’t like to read. But, for the purposes of this post, that’s beside the point. Being a reluctant-reader, as you can imagine, has made certain college courses more than a bit painful for the boy. Two classes, in particular, felt so daunting to him, he kept putting them off until this, his last, semester when he had no other option but to enroll. The classes? Western Civilization I and II. Yes, you read that right. The two college courses required on most U.S. university campuses in which the student must read the works of Homer, Virgil, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Sophocles, Genesis, Paul, Job…you get the idea. Clearly, not easily read works for a voracious reader, much less for a reluctant one, and the child is trying to do both courses in the same semester!

He’s taking Western Civ II through one of the local community colleges as a night class. Lots of class discussion, short weekly papers, friends in the class to study with. He’s making an A.

It’s a much different story for Western Civ I which he’s taking online through KU. He’s definitely not making an A in Western Civ I. This is a class presented by an ivory-tower academician who also happens to be the author of the textbook used in the course, a textbook, by the way, that is unavailable in the edition referred to in the course outline. A class in which the student reads a lot, writes a paper, takes a test, and starts reading some more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the instructor is perfectly brilliant (although she should update the course outline), but the format of the course is not the best construct for a reluctant reader who has senior-itis in the worst way, who put off taking the class until his last semester in college and even worse put off starting on the course until the end of March even though he knew he would have three papers and two tests to complete before May 2, and that’s not counting the other 12 hours he’s enrolled in. It hasn’t been a total disaster, but it’s turning into a nail-biter. Am I ranting? Am I hysterical? Sigh. It’s B-man’s fault. It’s all B-man’s fault. I don’t argue that point for one second, but I need the kid to graduate. Now! So…

I’m acting as his tutor. For all intents and purposes, I’m taking the class along with him. I read what he reads. We talk. I help him organize his ideas and outline his papers. We talk some more. We read some more. We meet in the library. We send text messages. I dig around in the stack of my old college textbooks to find my copies of Aristotle, Plato, and the rest, which…finally…brings me to Middle English and exploding heads. The texts for the last portion of the class include one of my favorite stories: Chaucer’s “The Wife of Bath.” Woooo Hoooo! I headed straight to my bookshelf to find my copy. If you’ve not read the story, The Wife of Bath is a widow, five times over, with a salty mouth and an in-your-face attitude you don’t expect to find in literature from that time period. I love her. As an English major in college, I was required to read Chaucer in Middle English, so I thought little about doing it again this time. What a dope. Literally, what a dope. After a page or two, I began feeling like one of the fembots in the Austin Powers movie. Remember them? The ultra-groovy female robots with high-caliber boobies who try to destroy Austin by seducing him? He turns the tables on them, using his mojo to short-circuit their wiring. Before it’s all over, the poor fembots heads bobble frantically around on their shoulders and then their heads explode? Just blow right off their shoulders? Yeah? You remember? Well, that was me a few pages into Chaucer. Bobble, bobble, bobble. kaBLAM! How in the world did I ever manage Chaucer in Middle English? Have that many of my brain cells wilted and fallen out of my ears? How does that happen? It was humbling. That’s all I can say. Humbling. But The Wife of Bath? She’s still a total hoot. Even in Modern English.

Today I made invitations. My youngest, my baby, my 23-year-old, six foot one, two-hundred-twenty-plus pound baby is graduating from college in just over a month. And, as we’ve always done to mark such occasions, we’ll have an open house with family and friends to celebrate the milestone. Since May is such a crazy time of the year for everyone, I promised myself months ago that I would get the invites out at least four or five weeks in advance. The four week mark is looming, so today was the day.

With nothing more than a vague notion of what I wanted to produce, I headed to the office supply store to see what speciality paper they had to offer. Unfortunately, the choices were meager. After standing in front of the display for several minutes lamenting the lack of a good stationary store nearby, I grabbed several packages of the paper I though B-man would like best, found coordinating envelopes, and headed to the register, thankful that he’s not that picky. The woman at the checkout looked up at me as I emptied my arms onto the counter.

Assuming my child was graduating from high school (bless her), she asked with sincere interest, “Where’s your child going to college next year?”

Without hesitating, I chirped, “Oh, he’s not graduating from high school. He’s graduating from KU. He’s my youngest. ” And then I added with a touch of smugness, “We’re almost done! Wooo Hooo!”

Wooo hooo, indeed. I wasn’t even out of the store before the Wooo Hooo soured in my mouth. Of course I’m pleased for my son–and proud. Of course I’m excited for what his future holds for him. Heck, I’m even excited about having an excuse to gather all our friends and family at the house next month. But still that wee little voice, that niggling, recurring thought, wasted no time piping up, “Your baby is graduating…this is it…you’re closing another chapter in your life…how’s that working out for you?”

Oh, for crying out loud. I don’t know. Okay? I’m still trying to figure it out. Truthfully, my answer is somewhat dependent on when it arises. If comes up while I’m bumbling around in a hormonal haze or in the middle of a hot flash (more reminders of the stage of life I find myself in), the answer is likely to be radically different than one I might give after I’ve just parred a hole out on the golf course or I’ve just woken up from a Saturday afternoon nap in the hammock–a nap I can now take because I no longer have to spend my entire weekends at the soccer complex. Clearly, there are perks to being empty-nesters. But it isn’t all roses.

Neither–as it turned out–was my project. All roses, I mean. I got home and began noodling around with what I wanted to put on the page. I wasn’t having much luck coming up with anything terribly creative when I remembered a picture of B-man that my dad posted on our family blog recently. I snatched it off the blog and, in minutes, the invitation came together. (Thanks, Dad!) The only problem was the background of the paper I’d chosen was light blue, so the pictured didn’t print very well on it. Crud. Is it even possible to do a project of any kind without multiple trips to the store? Phooey. Back to the office supply store to hem and haw and curse the scant offerings.

Four hours later, I’m happy to report the invitations are  printed and look terrific. The envelopes–at least the ones I have–are addressed, stamped, filled, and sealed. Unfortunately (and probably predictably), I didn’t have enough of them, so I’ll be heading back to the store in the morning. Phttttt.

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