Considering what we’d paid to turn his sister, Zoë, into a dazzling Mary-Kate Olsen look-a-like for her coronation, when it came time for our eldest son’s high school graduation his dad and I graciously decided, aware that he had spent his entire life in jeans and the obligatory hoodie – we would offer to buy Cole a suit, instead of going the rented tux route. One of Cole’s crew informed me the rental shop he’d gone with had offered him insurance in case he threw up on his tux, i.e. a barf policy. I questioned whether my son shouldn’t just pick up a cheap rental, after all. The absolutely most dressed up Cole had been in his seventeen years was cords, new runners, and perhaps a tucked-in shirt for half an hour. “Even if you don’t wear the jacket often, it’ll be nice to have dress pants,” I reasoned.
“Sure,” Cole said, slipping into a herringbone jacket while the salesperson, who was a teenager himself, calculated his size. Cole tripped me up by asking, “Dress pants for what though?”
“Well, you know, you don’t know what you’re plans are for next year. You might get a job where you need something special.” The three guys – Cole, his prepared to be barfed on friend, and the sales guy considered Cole’s image in the mirror – the classic jacket over his Bili-bong t-shirt and baggy jeans, with his baseball cap tipped backwards. “For instance you might sell suits,” I had to add.
Cole had applied to a few universities but was leaning heavily towards taking the gap year. His most recent employment aspiration was to work as a snowboard instructor in any range of mountains, the further from home the better – no suit need there. Shopping, and any other slow paced activity, had never been his forte. As a baby, even being held was too sedentary for him. He grew into a kid who, when he wasn’t playing sports, was calling friends up to do some rails. His greatest achievement in the eyes of his father and I, was that he sat still for six hours a day in a classroom for twelve long years.
The sales guy suggested Cole try on both pieces with a dress shirt. “I’ll probably just wear one of my dad’s,” Cole said and I pictured him in kindergarten with a shirt of his father’s buttoned on backwards to keep the finger paint off it. The sight I was treated to a few minutes later was stunning – my seventeen-year-old kid all put together in a gray herringbone suit. We three stared at Cole, who stared at his own image in the mirror. “Dude, it makes you look older,” his friend said.
“Yeah, you’re not kidding.” Cole agreed.
I swallowed. The sales boy had seen blubbering mothers before. He turned away to give us our moment of awe. The suit didn’t make Cole look older to me. It made him look handsome, but not older. In fact, I couldn’t get the image of my little kindergarten boy out of my mind, which led to a mild panic attack. There I was coming undone, trying to determine how we got from then to now.
We paid up, ordering minor alterations and I bought the boys chicken wraps in the food court. They choked them down while checking out teenage girls, oblivious to me getting out a pen and paper and trying to gather my thoughts. I’d dealt with Zoë leaving home to attend art school in Vancouver. She was back for summer break and we were working on getting used to living together again.
But what about this one? The son who I had to remind that we, his parents, were in fact, in charge. Was he at all equipped to survive away from moi? Once again I had to tally up what my teenaged kid didn’t know?
My kids had all mastered food foraging. Judging from the theme he’d chosen for his bedroom, which was monk-like austerity, I didn’t have to worry that he would lose himself in his own mish-mash of belongings the way two of his siblings could. This son would even gather up those clothes from time to time and do laundry, which was one of his most admirable characteristics.
Cole asked if I’d mind if they separated from me for just a few minutes to get the phone number of a girl. “And you think she’ll give it to you?” I asked incredulously.
“Sure. Why wouldn’t she?”
Optimism would get him places. “Stalk her politely then,” I said, before ducking out of sight to make some anxious notations. Had I told him you can’t turn right on a red in every city? To disinfect all his cuts? How to recognize a rabid animal? To leave a window open in a tornado?
What about girls? Did I tell him they just wanted him to listen? In a more practical arena – could he politely wind spaghetti onto his fork?
“Are you okay, mom?” he asked, catching up with me. “You have your worried look on.”
“I just have a lot to do. And I’m running out of time to get it done.”