Last night, I drove around with my son Gabe, looking for an open grocery store, picking up the scraps of his senior year.
Through all the cancellations, online school, social distancing, coronavirus craziness, my 18-year-old has remained pretty chill. Yes, he was markedly stressed the day they cancelled school. He was in charge of an assembly that day, a dance that night — but his initial disappointment receded with the bustle of adjusting to online school, older brothers moving home, a 5.7 earthquake in our hometown and the general worldwide fascination/horror of COVID-19.
He’s the sort of kid who laughs easily, seeks out all the funny quarantine memes and lets things roll off his back. When Gabe was born our pediatrician told me, “The fifth child is your smile baby. They don’t have any choice.” For Gabe, that’s been true in so many ways. He doesn’t complain. But maybe it’s because he doesn’t have a choice?
Gabe says all the right things. “I know there are bigger things going on in the world right now.” “I have plenty of happy experiences ahead of me.” “Well, less than 10% of the senior class goes to prom anyway, so I have no room to complain.” (a fact gleaned from his experience as a student body officer).
But here’s the truth– Gabe was looking forward to prom, to his last orchestra concert, windswept afternoons at track meets, to awards night, senior sunset, lunch in the courtyard on sunny spring days, making jokes on the morning announcements, doughnuts in seminary class, walking down the aisle with a slideshow of his baby photos on the screen as the school honored the outgoing student body officers.
My fifth child fully comprehends he’s one of the lucky ones. But just because he’s lucky, doesn’t mean he can’t mourn his losses. In some ways he’s suffered (and benefitted) from the practicality of a big family. We’ve been through enough awards nights to know they are full of disappointments, enough proms to know expectations fall short, enough graduations to know the droning reading of names puts almost everyone to sleep. Still, Gabe’s lost the opportunity to experience the joys and disappointments for himself.
So last night, when he said, “Obviously there’s no prom, but I’d kind of like to ask Heidi.” I sat down on the couch with him, helped him write some silly poems and we set off in the car to create a scavenger hunt highlighting his favorite high school memories. We slunk out of the house, not telling anyone except Gabe’s little sister, not trusting our slightly cynical household with our admittedly useless errand.
Pulling up to the grocery store for supplies, we were both surprised to learn the store closed at 8 PM and that it was 8 PM. Where do the hours go? “We’ll find an open store.” I assured him. “Or could we do it without the trail mix, the chocolate bar, the flowers?”
“Nah,” he replied, “it would just be too lame.” We turned off the radio and just drove. Maybe it was a mutual agreement– we didn’t want to hear sappy love songs, or fun dance songs, we didn’t want to be reminded that asking to a nonexistent dance is just kind of lame.
Found a store. Found flowers (absolutely gorgeous, thanks Macy’s). Dropped the first clue on her doorstep (warning her brother to stall a few minutes) and stayed just one step ahead: the canyon where they hiked and biked and built campfires with friends, the school, the church where they played games on winter nights… the last clue sent her to the park where they met for picnics, awkward tennis matches, so many school parties, the swing set with the gorgeous view of the valley… He intended to leave the flowers there with the last note.
“Take me home first,” I told him, “give her the flowers yourself.”
Pick up a few scraps of your senior year.