Friday, April 8, 2011

By the Time He Gets To Phoenix, You'll Need a Double Snapple

I didn't expect to hear from Cousin Katie so soon. We usually try to get our families together around the major winter holidays. Or whenever something worth celebrating happens.
Snapple and the Stuff of  Life:
Perfect together.
So when she called in the dead heat of this off-graduation summer, I had to wonder what was bringing us to Audubon, NJ, this time.
Last summer both our families celebrated high school graduations when their Derek and our AimeƩ managed to crawl across their parallel scholastic finish lines just in time to get a validated diploma. We won't be doing so again until 1998 when their Jason and our Neil get to balance simultaneous mortarboards on their little knowledge-laden heads, too.
"We're having a going-away party for Derek this Sunday." Katie's voice caught me off guard. "He's moving to Phoenix."
Phoenix. Capital of Arizona. A big dry state somewhere near California. The place Glen Campbell was headed to in the 1960s -- right before he landed that job as a Wichita lineman. Also, the home of Katie's parents.
"When is he leaving?" I asked.
"Next Wednesday. It's time. I think it will do us all some good," said Katie, hinting at the mixed motherly emotions that I, too, have experienced during the advanced stages of custodial parenting.
Not custodial, as in winning custody in a divorce hearing; she and Cousin Chuck are still in good standing, maritally speaking.
I mean custodial as in taking care of, guarding, maintaining and sustaining the child you've made it your business to hover over since birth.
And I say advanced stages because, when your live-at-home teenager finishes high school, turns 18, looks and feels grown up and still lives at home -- you become a terminally incredble parent.
That's right; I hate to shock those of you custodians out there still in the prime of your hovering stage. It's just part of the fine print you didn't dwell on -- along with sleep deprivation, financial ruin and chronic stomach knots. You still have to deal with losing all your credibility. And you thought you were so smart. This is something that even Doctors Spock, Drew and Brazelton can't solve for you, not even with an assist from Dear Abby.
"OK. We'll see you then," I said, remembering the last time we had spoken about Derek's future.
His mind was set on Rider University. But that changed when the financial reality of higher education caved in around him. So he settled for some affordable night classes at the local community college and survived his first post-high school year working, studying and looking for the next step up.
Phoenix seemed to hold promise. After all, Derek could stay with his grandparents for a while, establish residency and attend a state college there for a fraction of the $18,000 it would have cost him to live at Rider, right in his own New Jersey back yard.
At least going to Phoenix is going someplace.
And someplace is better than no place, especially for a young person like Derek, whose birthright is full membership in Club Genreation X.
Cousin Chuck said he knew Derek needed some wings. The best he could offer was a choice: another semester at the community college and some wheels of his own to get back and forth -- or a plane ticket out of Audubon.
Derek took the golden ticket.
Postscript: Derek turned out fine. Found himself
a great wife, Bridget, and is living happily ever after.
At the party, Derek seemed happy enough. He said he was packed and counting the days. Several of his friends stopped  by with offerings of cards, gifts and bear hugs. Chuck and Katie were busy restocking the taco dip and fetching Snapples for the hot and thirsty summer crowd.
A week later, I had the unusual pleasure of seeing my cousins again, this time at Cousin Arn's house. Cousin Arn, who also lives in Audubon, is Cousin Chuck's younger brother, and three weeks my junior. He and his wife were celebrating their baby's first birthday. And in 17 summers, I suppose we will be celebrating mutual graduations for their Morgan and our Julianna. Guess it's never too soon to plan.
"So, how'd it go?" I asked Katie, sipping a Snapple.
"I cried for three days. In fact, this is the first day I've been able to say his name without -- "
"-- You talking about Derek again?" Cousin Chuck interjected.
Katie's eyes filled with tears.
"I was fine until the night before he left. Then it hit me -- all of a sudden I couldn't stop crying. It's just that Derek and I would sit around at night a lot, talking about things. You know? Now he's gone to Phoenix. Then you start wondering things like, 'Did I do enough for him? Did I give him enough while I had the chance? Will he be OK?' It's just been harder than I thought."
 Katie struggled bravely under the weight of her sentence.
And for a few minutes, on Cousin Arn's moonlit deck, we cousins and our spouses sipped Snapples just to beat the hot summer night, wondering out loud about the state of parenting.
Surely it hadn't been so hard for OUR moms and dads. We marveled at the cost of living, the cost of college, the cost of taking a chance on parenthood without reading the fine print.
Then, we drank another round of Snapples and I offered up a silent toast, to Derek and the future. I think Katie made hers a double.

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