A new year always ushers in new opportunities and second chances. For some of us, we will commit to live a healthier lifestyle, save some money, even spend more time with family. Others will start new jobs, relocate to new cities, welcome new children and even conquer an illness. But nothing quite prepares a mother for the day her child leaves home to forge his own path in the world. It’s exciting and terrifying, like riding the roller coaster at Cedar Point. You’re filled with pride and apprehension as you watch your baby bird flap their wings and leave the nest. For me, the first week of January was filled with emotions as I watched my son go his own way.
My Fiesta Bowl celebration was short lived. No sooner had the trophy been handed over and post-game interviews completed, I was making a mental list of all the things that had to be done to get Darron to the “next step” in his life. I, like most parents, was hoping he would stay in school another year. But I’ve known since October 18, 2015, that my role in his life has changed. I am now an advisor. While my opinions and thoughts carry weight, he is free to make his own decisions even if they are somewhat impetuous. And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I was 18 years old and severely hungover when I decided in January 1990 to join the U.S. Navy. His decision was a greeting card full of irony. Karma wrapped in a bow.
I took the week off from work. There was no way in hell I could have juggled the ungrateful nature of television news and the emotional instability that comes with watching your child leave home for more than a weekend. The homicides, Powerball jackpots, bank robberies, corrupt politicians, cold newsrooms, smelly live trucks and cold fastfood would all be in their rightful place when I got back. For once, my son would come first. For once, my family would be more important that standing on some street corner telling you how terrible the world is. There was work to be done at home and I was all in.
For days, I washed and sorted his laundry. I waded through at least six or seven plastic bins of t-shirts, underwear, shorts, skinny jeans, sweatshirts and shoes. I swear he is a male version of Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines who had more shoes than DSW. Every type of sneaker, several pairs of dress shoes and more cleats than you could imagine were stowed away in bags and boxes. It’s an amazing collection of memories that chronicles three years of college football. The sheer magnitude of the task of sorting and washing kept the tears away. There was no time to get emotional because Wednesday was fast approaching. Port Columbus was calling.
Somehow he came back from the Fiesta Bowl without a wallet and a massive ear infection. He needed a driver’s license to fly and a new/temporary debit card. I gathered all the necessary documents and told him he had to be at the BMV early Monday. He wouldn’t be the only one in line. It was the first weekday in 2016 that people could get a new license. To his credit, he got up and took care of that early. Then, we needed to see an ENT before he left. Fortunately, a good friend with Ohio Health got him an appointment at Doctor’s West Monday afternoon. Poor kid had built up too much fluid behind the eardrum. It had to be drained. I’m so happy Katie Logan read my frantic email. Thanks lady!
As I mothered my son, I wondered if he was even ready. A lost wallet, a bad ear, all required my attention. Jesus, would he be able to fly back to Phoenix alone? Could he navigate O’Hare or Hartsfield-Jackson without accidentally setting off an incident at a TSA checkpoint? Please, don’t lose that wallet I kept saying for two days. I was on the verge of nervous breakdown. But it was a labor of love. I couldn’t have spent my week any other way. Caring and loving my child has been the focus of my life for more than twenty-one years. I wasn’t always perfect. I made mistakes. But what parent doesn’t? As Monday turned to Tuesday, I began to silently take pride in the fact that I beat the average, defied the odds that often come with being a single parent. My baby boy was smart, respectful, drug-free and without a criminal record. And he hadn’t done anything too egregious that would warrant my killing him. Who has my bail money?
The night before Darron left to train of the NFL Combine, we had dinner at Cooper’s Hawk. It was a great night to dine there. The crowd was small so service was fast. We shared calamari and both had steaks. I looked over at him, secretly longing for the days when he wore his hair shorter. I knew I would miss seeing that face a few times a week. To me, he is still that tiny little baby hooked up to a heart monitor. I remember his tiny head full of hair, his little hands and feet. He was small and helpless. He needed me and I needed him. Now, he stands six-foot-two, and weighs close to two hundred-forty pounds. And I sat there wondering if we still would need each other. He intended to pay, but I wouldn’t let him.
The ride to Port Columbus on Wednesday was uneventful. The weather was perfect for driving, even better for flying. He let me pack his suitcase. Of course, it was heavier than allowed. But he was flying first class so they waived the fees. We quickly made our way to the Concourse B TSA checkpoint. I felt the tears coming, but held them back. I just flat out refused to melt into a blubbering idiot. I didn’t see my mother the day I left for the U.S. Navy. But I did speak to hear on the phone the night before I flew to Orlando. She cried like a baby. And in some way, I felt bad for leaving home. I didn’t want my son to feel that, so I sucked it up. I gave that goodbye four to six seconds of relentless effort. Good thing I couldn’t go to the gate because I’m sure I would’ve fallen apart as he walked down the jet way.
I waited for him to clear security. I watched as that white skull cap weaved in and out. I watched him gather his bags and belongings. He turned and waived. I waived in return. And just like that, he was gone.
I haven’t cried until now. I’m sitting at work on Sunday night, tears rolling down my face with the Golden Globes in the background. I don’t think it hit me until now how much I miss him. I worry, like all parents do when their babies go off into the big world. Will he make mistakes? Yes. Will he need me in the middle of the night? Probably. Does the distance between us change our love for each other? Nope. We are mother and son, an unbreakable bond exists between us. And while we are physically separated by a couple thousand miles, our love for each other will last forever.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.