I’ve spent four months away from writing, and with each day that I’ve been away, it’s been harder to make the time in my perpetually-sleep-deprived days to return. But with two young Kung Fu Sihengs weighing heavily on my heart these last weeks, one of whom I just finished speaking with on the phone, the re-entry point is clear.
My son is boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning to visit his grandparents for a week. When he returns, he’ll have one day to dot his “i”s and cross his “t”s before heading down the highway to Georgetown University, which is also my alma mater. I was scared shitless, as they say, when I found out this child was on the way. I don’t think the fear was evident to anyone but my therapist – a man who knew enough about me to gently suggest that motherhood might not be the best choice at that point in my life. My marriage was the epitome of dysfunction, which, given the emotional and physical messes we both were, was all it could be. But to my therapist’s amazement (and my own!), I consciously chose and gave my all to getting my act together for the sake of the boy who’ll be boarding a plane to Texas tomorrow morning.
He’s getting on that plane missing half of one of his front teeth. That fact infuriates me for two reasons: first, because he injured himself doing something thoroughly irresponsible and thoughtless, which wasn’t particularly legal either. ‘Nuff said on that. Second, the fact that he’ll be taking off for college with this new look, despite having the means and opportunity to cap the tooth, tells me it’s a look (persona?) that he prefers, and it will likely be with him a long time.
So, the mom who stopped being self-destructive in order to enable her child to become exactly what he became – the sought-after valedictorian, scholarship student – will, for the foreseeable future, be reminded every time she sees her boy that it’s now his turn to be self-destructive. And he’s taking it. Repeatedly. If only someone had chipped his tooth in a sparring match! I’d still want him to cap the damn thing, of course, but it wouldn’t actually hurt to see it missing.
The visuals that half tooth gives me, both of my past and of my son’s possible future, are probably nothing compared to the imaginings in the minds of the parents of a young man with a brand new tattoo. The adolescent who taught me how to make a long staff give me gold medals is entering his last year of college – and counting down the days to his commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
Siheng Bad-Ass, as I affectionately refer to him, recently returned from an ROTC training mission in Fort Knox that cut him off from the rest of the world for a month. He was excited and proud as he talked about repelling down walls, while taking practice shots with a machine gun, and I knew before I asked what assignment he’d be requesting ten months from now.
“Oh my God, your poor parents!” I said aloud before I could catch the words. I was imagining him ducking bullets in Iraq or Syria. “You’re going in as an officer with a great record. You can pick anything you want. You don’t have to choose the infantry,” I said as if I were his mother, telling him what he knew better than I did.
“It’s my calling,” he answered with a big smile.
A week later, he walked into Wushu class with a tattoo on his forearm that reads: “For those I love, I sacrifice.” I’m not sure I’d be able to read that on my infantry-bound son’s arm without crying each time I saw it.
I worry almost as much about the future of the boy-Siheng who was my teacher as I do about the future of the boy that’s mine. I haven’t seen the future soldier’s father in months, because my schedule at the store has kept me out of his Saturday class. But I wish I could give him a hug of commiseration.
We get them ready to walk into the world on their own two feet, then, we have absolutely no control over the size, sound and rhythm of their steps when that walk begins. At the end of a job well done, what remains is watching and waiting. Please, God, please…give us a good and happy show.