One of the nice things about having lived in a small town for the last decade is that my oldest son’s friends are now working behind counters and cash registers around town. It’s always a nice surprise to see these same kids wearing uniforms and serious faces, doing their diligent best to earn some pocket money and college tuition.
I wondered, the first time it happened, why it didn’t make me feel old. I was just happy to see them there, familiar faces – more grown up now, and different from when they’re sporting around with Spawn, heading out for pizza or off to a juice-only disco out of town.
The first time this happened was at the local Jewel grocery store. I had loaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt, mind only half on the task, as one gets after the quadrillionth time doing it, filled in as much of my check as I could without the total, and somewhat numbly waited while the gal ahead of me checked through her stuff. Then I heard a familiar voice, I looked up, and lo and behold, there was one of my son’s dearest friends for the last several years, Billy. He smiled briefly at me and kept checking out the other lady.
When it was my turn, he beamed at me, and I beamed back. He quickly got to scanning the groceries while carrying on an “oh my goodness” conversation with me. You know the kind – “Oh, my goodness, how nice to see you here! Have you been working here long? Does it pay well? Are you going to school in the evenings? Are they being nice to you? Do you like it?” He was, as he has always been, very polite and a little shy, but I could tell he was happy to see a familiar face that meant him well. In between concentrating ferociously on his job and answering my chatty questions, he caught me up a little on his family’s doings since I had last seen him, and when I was all checked out and bagged up, he made sure to get a bagboy to help me take my stuff out to the car. I promised to have Spawn give him a call.
A couple of days later, Billy dropped by to shoot the breeze with Spawn and told me how nice it had been to see me. He’d been having a rough day, his bosses were being stinkers, the computer hadn’t updated, and as a result, he’d had to manually enter a huge number of codes, etc. I looked at his still very youthful face, his tall person, and I still didn’t feel old. I was glad to have brightened his day a little, and hearing him talk about his job reminded me of my first entry level job – how seriously I took it and every word uttered by managers who were, at that time, so much younger than I am now. I reassured Billy and told him to let me know if there was anything I could do, as a customer, to give him a good “rep” and let the managers know he was a good employee. He smiled and said thanks and he and Spawn headed off to solve knotty computer game problems.
Similar encounters have been happening since then with increasing frequency. I’ll hand over a check at the WalMart and the little checker will say, “Oh, are you Bunny’s mom? She was in my French class!” Or I’ll stop in to pick up a bag of fast food for our one night a week of fast food dinner and hear a greeting from somewhere in the back, “Hi, Mrs. BoS! How’s Spawn? Where’s he working these days?” It’ll be some little gal he dated for a while, and I’ll have a heck of a time remembering her name, so it’s fortunate that these kids usually have to have their nameplates pinned to their shirts. We’ll chat for a minute or two, and then I’ll toddle off with my burgers or chicken and bring up the encounter over dinner. Spawn usually already knows where all of his friends are working, and he’ll update me with what else he knows.
And I still don’t feel old. I think I just feel maternal instead. I’ve known these kids since they were middle schoolers or elementary school kids; they’ve overnighted at my house, swum in my pool, eaten popcorn in my living room while watching movies, played with my parrot, scratched my dog, and been polite at the dinner table. Sometimes they’ve even misbehaved and been spoken to and forgiven. I think that makes a difference.
There are times when I do feel my middle-age – when I go to see a doctor who’s ten years younger than I am and looks twenty years younger, or when I see a fella in a police uniform who looks more like Doogie Howser than someone from Adam 12 or Dragnet. Some inner angel stops me from speaking while what runs through my mind is “Oh my God, did you even finish Organic Chemistry yet? Who was your professor? I hope to crap you passed Calculus.” Or a mildly outraged, “Holy crap! You don’t look old enough to be in Driver’s Ed! What are you doing with a gun and a nightstick? Jeepers!”
I’m saved again because my husband, an insurance agent, has many of them for clients. I’ll know their names when I see their badges, or they’ll ask me if I know him, and that does ease things a bit. Sometimes I feel a little peripheral, though, as if my only proof of existence is being related to someone they really do know. That feeling goes away when I hit the doors of any of the schools in town, where they know me quite well, and some either appreciate me or fear me, but, in general, they all know and respect me, what I’ve done for my kids, and what I’ve done in encounters with them previously.
In my own little local sphere, it’s acknowledged that I’m an excellent mom, that I know more about IDEA and 504 (special ed) law than anyone in the school system, and that if you need a math tutor to pull a particularly tough kid through the standardized tests, I’m the person to call. Teachers know me because my kids are always at the top of the class, I show up for parent-teacher meetings with more questions than they can answer, I do what I say I’m going to do, I don’t grade grub for my kids or make excuses for them, and I don’t waste their time.
Even teachers who haven’t had my kids know me, and they usually have something nice to say to me. Principals usually dread seeing me, if I’m the one calling for the meeting, but they know that if they call it, I’ll be reasonable and understand their concerns and limitations. The Special Ed Co-Op worries that I’ll send notices to the paper about ADHD being 504 relevant, which would result in them being swamped in excess of their budget. If I show up for school board meetings or NCLB mandated community liaison meetings, I always get asked what’s up by one of the principals. These same people wouldn’t know my husband from Juan Valdez’s donkey, so I guess it evens out.
Which brings me, circuitously, back to Spawn’s friends behind counters. It’s been ten years of feeding them, watching them play with my children, driving them home, talking with their parents, and listening to them complain about school. I’ve seen them in school, my backyard, the playing field, and now at work. They feel at ease with me and they trust me, and I feel at ease with them, too. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel old when I see them grown up and earning a living.
There are different problems and rewards all along the way with the motherhood gig, and this is one of the good bits. I’m OK with this part of growing older; it’s pretty nice, all told.