Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Satisfying the Loan
by Julianne Anderson

“Tell me again when he leaves for college.”

My husband laughs. I’ve called him at work to affirm that our oldest son will indeed leave home soon. I relay the frantic message I’ve received on my cell phone. The boy needs me RIGHT NOW. Apparently his truck no longer rests in its high school parking place. The window sticker entitling the vehicle to park in the lot “disappeared” yesterday. And even though the parking lot attendant “should know” the truck belongs there, it presently resides on a hook in route to the tow yard, with a $130 fee attached to its freedom.

I don’t always call my husband with such quips. With three teenage boys in the house, these episodes are often commonplace.

The towing incident arrived on the heels of a financial discussion – or massive uproar, and all out battle, if you will -- only two nights before. Our high school senior, headed for Texas A & M University, didn’t appreciate having to explain the $8.69 in his bank account designed to hold $2500 by summer’s end, a mere four months away. We had agreed that his free ride through college at our expense meant he would take responsibility for books and expenses. Funny how the portion of his paycheck destined for the savings account quickly dissipated when spent on Taco Cabana, Big Gulps and Milk Duds.

The next day, our son provided us with the requested plan to acquire that $2500 by August. Also, in a written apology, he explained, “that even though I feel sorrow for my words, this is something you and Dad have to go through. There has to be some form of rebellion on my part.”

So back to my original question – when does that boy leave for college? As much as I love him, as much as I can’t imagine how hard it will be not seeing his face everyday, I know it’s time for him to go. The day of his baptism, we held his tiny body and promised to remember he was only on loan to us. We agreed to shepherd him toward his own life and guide him to find joy in learning and loving.

Like Lewis and Clark, without a compass, my husband and I hiked with him down gravel roads to covered bridges and natural grottos with cool waters in the pools below. We toured Mt. Rushmore, Gettysburg, science, industry, air, space and art museums, aquariums and planetariums. We took him to The Nutcracker, Snow White on Ice and The Producers. We taught him to write thank you notes and to perform community service. We assured him it wasn’t smart to spit on his brothers or to burn bridges.

Somewhere in the term of that loan, he grew and now it’s time for him to leave. My heart says I’m not ready for the loan to be called. My brain disagrees.

A natural order does exist. In the past two years, challenging moments have confronted us as he faced the fact that growing up was inevitable, just like we said. Of course he hates to admit we were right. In his quest for life beyond our home, our son believes my husband and I have become incredibly stupid and unreasonable, and we remain entirely too involved in his life.

”Oh, my God,” he moans. “I can’t believe you’re making me do dishes before I can go out tonight. After all, I worked today.”

“I think he’s starting to get it,” my husband says.

In the early years we walked the floors with babies wailing, pressed to our chests. Feed them, change them, take them for a stroller ride. Feed them, change them, push them in the swing. Feed them, change them, rock them to sleep. Then we repeated the cycle -- after lunch. Now that they’re older, we wish for the days of meeting those much easier needs. Our routine has switched to watchful, ever vigilant eyes and ears to make sure we don’t lose them before the loan is satisfied. That the tow truck doesn’t take them away before we’ve secured the necessary stickers to their minds.

Meanwhile, life rolls on. Four days after the financial blowout, two days after the truck towing incident, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself sitting in the high school parking lot at 6:45am awaiting AAA Road Service. My son, my darling, had arrived at school early to catch the bus to play in the high school district golf championship. He had jumped out of the truck, motor still running, to greet a fellow player and, by accident, locked the door. Not a big deal. Just meant we needed to grab the extra key off the key keeper in the kitchen. Nah. Too easy. He had lost that set of keys and hadn’t had time, or the money, to replace it yet. I sat with my cup of coffee in the parking lot watching the sunrise while my son rolled down the road in a school bus on his way to the golf course.

I shouldn’t have had the coffee though. My bladder filled and I couldn’t leave because surely the AAA guy would show up while I hunted down a restroom. When he arrived an hour later, our truck provided an easy find. It was the only vehicle in the parking lot with the lights on, radio blaring, windshield wipers still swishing away the long gone morning dew, and a middle-aged woman in slippers rocking from leg to leg beside it.

My husband called while I danced in the parking lot. “Tell me again when he leaves for college,” he said.

In four months, whether I’m ready or not, my oldest child will go off to begin his very own life. My husband and I won’t have a break to mull that over. The next child in line is already getting a bit testy in his response to our inquires. I don’t think he’s going to be any easier or worse than the first one, but we can’t know for sure. The third boy? Well, by then maybe we just won’t care anymore. After all, where his brothers never saw anything but a Disney movie until they were 10, that poor child saw Jurassic Park at age 3. He’s already twisted.

For the first son, it’s time he makes his own decisions and finds his place. My heart will break with his absence, but I know the loan has been called. Years ago, while pushing a swing for hours to satisfy his need to fly, I never thought our time together would soar by with a swish of air. Ready or not, his life will never be the same. And neither will mine.
Julie Sucha Anderson lives in Northwest Austin with her husband and three sons. For five years she wrote a monthly column on family life and recently completed her first novel, Still Breathing.  She reports that life is much easier with only two kids, although her heart catches when she sees that oldest boy’s face on his visits home.