You started high school last week. You walked away from the last ride to school you would allow me to give you, and you walked into the high school I attended with shoes you wanted to look new, but not too new, and wearing a school uniform I will wash every week with tears in my eyes. You were nervous but would not say it, and I was nervous and couldn’t not say it. You walked inside looking like you knew exactly where to go, and I wanted to park the car, get out, and come with you to make sure you got to each class on time. You didn’t need me, but I needed you to. I need you to need me, but I also need to say I am sorry.
I am sorry I didn’t save every coloring sheet you did in preschool. I loved your little crayon scratches and the wrinkles in the paper from where you crushed it in your hand on the way to the same backseat from which you just climbed. I am not sorry, though, that I snagged that drawing you made in your seventh grade science class. You hate drawing, and I loved the parts you labeled on that hastily drawn flower. That crazy purple iris makes me cry.
I am sorry I haven’t kept more photographs of you as a preteen. When I have wanted to take a picture, you have balked. You just hate it so. You cringe when you see me in capture mode, stalking you with my finger poised on the shutter button. I am not sorry, however, that I sneaked that picture of you studying. You were about 10 and had your stuffed dog beside you. It’s not the last I have seen of ol’ dog, but it might have been the last time I saw you with him like that, and I caught it. I printed that one.
I am sorry I don’t understand every song you enjoy. I am even more sorry I can’t like them. Yours is a musical preference I don’t “get.” I am “old” to you, all rabbit ears and air quotes intended. I love that you love it and that it makes you happy. Your happy is my happy. I am not sorry, though, that I caught you humming “Reminiscing” by Little River Band. I am even less sorry that I am the one who helped you figure out the name of it when you asked.
I am sorry the only things I wrote down in your baby book were your weight and birthday. I had wonderful intentions of being the scrapbook mother. I even had the stickers, themed paper and a couple pairs of zigzag scissors that were to help me adorn fantastic pages for each milestone. Instead, I got to watch you reach the milestones. I could have been carefully pasting little baby booties on corrugated scrapbook pages, but I was sitting beside you and your sister on the floor as you ate Cheerios out of a red plastic bowl watching Pingu and reading your first word, “igloo.” And for that, I am not sorry.
I am sorry that I put the dog outside so often. I promised you a dog and got one for you, but I was the failure there. Your excitement was worth every minute of cleaning up the hair, but even I have limits. Bodily functions happen to be among those limits. I am not sorry, however, that I adopted that dog. Lizzie is a reminder every day of how much you can love. Never a day goes by that I don’t see you love on her and talk to her the same way you did the day we brought her home in that tiny yellow blanket.
I am sorry we always seem to be out of ice cream. You really like it, and in fact, I think you might adore it. I should just buy stock in Turner Dairy. It’s pretty important to me too. That might be part of the reason for our shortage, but I digress. I am not sorry that I feed your ice cream habit and am the first one to suggest a stop at Dairy Queen. If I can’t be the one who is making the dessert that makes you happy, I can at least be the one who hands it to you.
I am sorry I complain about you watching Everybody Loves Raymond—in marathon sessions and in a loop—for weeks on end. I have every word memorized, and the laugh tracks are even beginning to sound the same from scene to scene. We have watched it so much that you aren’t paying attention to the words anymore; you are now watching for the inconsistencies, and I wonder if you might be planning to make your own Youtube video of the discrepancies. I am not sorry that I introduced you to it, though. It makes you laugh. When you watch it, you get that deep, from-the-gut laugh that means you really get the joke. I love watching you appreciate humor. You may not laugh at me the way you did from your car seat when I would sing The Wiggles’s songs, but you laugh with me now. I think I just might like that better.
Now, you come in from high school every afternoon. You don’t look like you have been there, but I know you have. You look like you have been in the backseat of the car dropping your Clifford book onto the floorboard or trying to fit your sticky sippy cup into the cup holder without my help. You look like my little boy, but you are a high school student. Your face looks like the face on all those undeveloped pictures on each of my defunct cell phones, but your eyes look like the eyes of a young man thinking about jobs and cars. These next four years will change you, and for that I am sorry too. I won’t be sorry for the empty scrapbooks and ice cream cartons though. Nope. Not for a minute. You’re happy, and my baby boy is my happy.