God Only Knows

There is nothing there I didn't already know, hadn't already been spilled out to me at night as an explanation for a day of sulking. I am about to close the notebook when my eyes fall on my name: Mom.

times when it seemed like nobody else liked me and my Mom was my only friend.

I have to blink away tears, for my students are trickling in for another go at Wisdom Literature. I shut the notebook and slide it carefully under my purse.

Even though we work at the same school — he as a student and me as a teacher — I don't see him the rest of the day, and he sits silent next to me on the way home, letting his five year-old sister chatter on about her day.

He's content in the cascade of words flowing from the back seat, and absently taps the religion journal on his lap. I consider the words I knew were inside and think about last night.

It had been the monthly discussion — I use the word loosely — of his grades. He is bright, but unmotivated. He just doesn't see the connection between now and the rest of his life and every few weeks it drives me to frustration, which then makes him defensive and liable to say stupid things he doesn't mean: Sure, I want to work at McDonalds the rest of my life, I want to be a slacker, I hate this family.

I'm trying to be patient and let him find his own center so his motivation can come from within himself, but it just doesn't seem to be happening, and money's being poured into a parochial school education, and he just sinks further into a haze of inaction.

He doesn't understand what I'm saying either, and he squeezes himself further into the corner of his bed. He thinks it is about becoming a college professor like his father, or being a science whiz like his younger brother, when it's not about any of that.

He wants to be a sportscaster, and I want him to as well. No problem. I just keep saying, I know Algebra has nothing to do with sportscasting, but you just have to get into the habit of doing your best, of working hard. Oh child, I want you to get what you want, that's all, and you won't if you keep thinking it's just going to magically happen.

And I yell and he yells and cries and I almost cry, too, and little sister, lying in bed waiting for her story, falls asleep without it, lights burning as the battle rages on.

my Mom was my only friend.

What a friend I was last night, I think, as the car idles at a light. Who knows what he'd been through that day, who knows what is confusing him right now, what is threatening, what mysteries are making him feel as if life is just sucking him down into quicksand. God, help me be whatever he needs — you made me his mother, now help me figure out how to do it.

I take the risk to speak, resolving not to fight.

“What are you thinking about?”

He smiles slightly.

“Tennessee football.”

Fine. I wish he were pondering the content of his English assignment, but fine.

He's not done. I catch a glimmer in his eye, and I know what's coming.

“I missed you today, Mom.”

“Yeah, right.”

It's one of our running jokes, a little comedy routine.

“And I was thinking about you, and I started crying in English class, then Mr. Bauries asked why, and I told him, then he started crying because he missed his mommy, and then everyone else started crying 'cause they missed their mommies…”

We're laughing now, except for little Meryl Streep in the back seat, whose recollection of missing her mommy during the school day is actually moving her to real tears, which makes us laugh more, even though we know we shouldn't.

Nothing's been solved, nothing's fixed, and God only knows how many more “forgotten” homework assignments there will be and whether this dance my son and I are doing will reach a level of calm and acceptance and whether anything I'm trying to do will do any good at all. But I guess that's the point.

I'm not in control and maybe it's time to stop thinking that I am.

God only knows, indeed.

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