When Max was in third grade, he told me that he had too many sick days to get into a good college. He said: “The government isn’t going to let me have another chance, unless I figure out a way to reverse the time-space continuum and re-do a couple of tests. And I’m not sure I want to do that.”
My greatest joys and proudest moments in my life have come from being the mother to my two sons. As have my most vulnerable and scared moments. My fired-up-tiger-claws-out-I-will-eat-your-face-if-you-hurt-my-kids-moments. My moments of deepest despair and shame came from the times when I felt like I failed my sons as their mother. I didn’t sign them up for the thing on time. I didn’t sew the patch on the right sleeve. I forgot to bake the class snack and I sent in a pack of Oreos and a side of sorry. I have this thing about the time-space continuum. I usually end up behind it. But I hope I have shown my children through this process that I am imperfect, I am compassionate, I am vulnerable, I am creative, I make mistakes, I fall down, I get back up again, and I’m going to be late.
I am the kind of late where I am trying to do one more thing before I left the place where I was. I’m trying to do a load of laundry. Read and respond to an email. Answer a text from a sad friend and I don’t want them to feel alone. Listen one more time to a song that someone I love shared with me and it makes me think of them. I’m the kind of late who stayed up the night before reading an amazing new book or transcribing music on my cello or writing a poem or practicing salsa steps. But I promise, I’m not going to be really late. Maybe 5-10 minutes. And I promise. I will be there.
My son Max – he’s that kind of late, too. Up too late, and in the mornings, during the school year, this meant he showed up to his 8:00 am class often 10, 20, 30 minutes late. At the end of the year, I got a warning letter from the school district letting me know that my son was a truant. My creative, brilliant, son, who gets letters from colleges weekly, who spends his free time playing jazz and busting his ass working as a grocery clerk, who stays up too late because he is trying to do better and be better. Well, according to the school district – he is a truant. But what the district doesn’t mention is that he always shows up. He just shows up late.
In a world that allegedly celebrates creativity and thinking outside the box, the problem is, we are unwilling to relinquish boxes. We crave definitions and certainty. In many ways, I get why we need that. I’m an attorney. I’m a bit of a rule-follower. But I also see, day in and day out, that we forgo the practical because it’s “safer” to cling to a definition and stay in a box. As an example. One of my favorite quotes from “The Breakfast Club” is:
“Brian: I’m a f*in’ idiot because I can’t make a lamp?
Bender: No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.
Brian: What do you know about Trigonometry?
Bender: I could care less about Trigonometry.
Brian: Bender, did you know without Trigonometry there’d be no engineering?
Bender: Without lamps, there’d be no light.”
When he was in middle school, Max said to me, “Mom, I don’t understand why we take some of the classes that we do. I understand why we take Language Arts and Math and Science. But I don’t know why we take Social Studies. I mean, yesterday we learned that Mayans considered big noses a sign of beauty. When am I ever going to need that in life?” I said, “Max, maybe one day you’ll be at a cocktail party and you’ll see a pretty girl and you’ll need a conversation starter. You’ll walk up to her and say, hello, ladies. Did you know that in the Mayan culture big noses were considered a sign of beauty?” He said, “Yeah, I’d say, hello ladies, did you know that you would be considered beautiful in Mayan culture? Your big nose would actually be a sign of beauty.” Definitions are mutable. Boxes are different sizes. Noses are relative and relevant to faces. It all depends on the lamp and the lighting.
A friend of mine, who was an NFL football player, once told me, “You’re always a twisted knee away from oblivion.” And – his career ended because of a knee injury. But before that happened, he accomplished amazing goals. And that’s the thing. You can either be diminished by what might happen or other people’s expectations and definitions of you. Or you can keep going and take care of sh*t right now.
No matter where you are, no matter when you get there, you are perfect and exactly right. And if I’m supposed to meet you there, I’ll be a little late. But I promise. I’ll be there.