Driving down the lane
They will feel the pain
Putting up a shot
My game is on fire, hot

I chant the above—on a whim, mind you…improv style—and when I am done and thoroughly impressed with myself, Wally Ben rolls his eyes. “Good mom,” the sixth grade boy says. “Very good…,” he trails off as he clears his cereal bowl and heads downstairs to pack up. He is not as impressed as I am but very nicely dismissing my offer of help for his original music video he has to make for music class. He has chosen to make a song about basketball, as you can likely deduce from my incredible suggested lyrics above. He has only a few days to do this work, and I know he needs me in order to make it passable. (<—Notice the pun! See, he needs me!!!) I imagine the video he will come up with—the bad singing and boring graphics and how this will definitely just go on and on and on and not do the important work in entertainment of leaving them wanting more.

“Do you want me to write it down?” I ask as I follow him around while he gathers and layers on winter clothes for his walk to school.

“No thanks, I know what I’m going to do,” he says. He pulls on his hat, and he is off to live his day.

The winter hat reminds me of when we first moved to this town four years ago. He was in 3rd grade, and his sister Vivvi in 1st. At our old house we were a block from school and walked every day. Here the elementary school is far enough that the kids took the bus for the first time in their lives. They loved the experience. For me, it was incredibly strange to send them to a new building and situation this way before we knew anyone—both of them at once, like two of my limbs were accidentally left on the moving van as it drove away. But, this was our first year reaching that parenting horizon of both kids in full day school. I loved watching out the window and getting that bonus commute 30 minutes tacked onto my alone time during the school day. They lived their lives, and for seven glorious hours I lived mine without fetching snacks, or dragging kids to the grocery store, or feeling bad for working.

And they really did live their own lives. One day, during winter of that school year, Vivvi was missing a day of school. Before Wally got on the bus, he asked, “Wait, if Vivvi isn’t there, what about my hair?”

“What do you mean, ‘what about your hair,’ Wal?” we asked.

So he told us. Ever since it turned cold and hat weather, they would get off the bus, and before heading to their classrooms, he would remove his hat. There in the hallway, Vivvi would “fix his hair,” until it “looked good.”

This image is one of my favorites to demonstrate their unique sibling bond. Tiny Vivvi, at 6 years old, carefully fixing his part, patting down his tufts of hair. Him patiently waiting, saying thank you when she finished. Both of them thinking this is normal—that this is how we treat each other in this world. My heart melted to mush that this happened every day, that I didn’t know about it, that I was just finding out about it now. That I might not ever have known.

In 2020 our family survived being together all the time with a lot of improv games. In one of them, we had to partner up and tell a story no one had heard before. Then both partners had to tell the story to the other pair as if it happened to them, and the other pair had to guess whose story it actually was. The Wallys paired up and another “living-your-own-life” moment was revealed. The story went like this:

“In third grade, I was walking back from a bathroom break and passed my locker. Suddenly, I wondered if I could fit in it. I opened it, stepped inside, and sure enough, I fit! I closed the door all the way to be positive. Then I realized, there was no light in there! And the door, not being a door you were supposed to experience from the other side, didn’t have a handle on this side. I panicked and just started hitting at the latch, and after a while I got it. Then I went back to class. No one ever knew.”

Now, if this happens to you, that day you go home and tell your parents. Your parents ask you all the outside questions every day to find out if anything interesting happened. Surely, this falls under the category of “notable.” It was a near miss! An almost disaster! So when we played the game, and this was the story, I thought that obviously this happened to Husband Wally, way back in the 1980s. It is a classic 80s story! Right up there with stories like riding your bike alongside your running friend who hasn’t learned the art of bike-riding yet, and using a 3-man slingsshot to launch rotten apples at passing neighbors.

But no. Like the hair fix, this happened to my son ages before I found out about it. In this case, a few years before this reveal, likely on a day where I asked him if anything happened at school, and he said, “Not really.”

I should have seen all this as a preview of what was to come. Middle school brings a whole new level of life-living.

Here, I feel like I need to paint the proper picture. Wally is still so far from a sullen teenager—he is chatty, and outgoing, and sometimes talks so much that you can tune your brain to white noise while listening to him for an hour and he wouldn’t know. As a base example of who Wally is, here is his response when he was trying to describe a current popular singer to me. I feel like this pretty much sums up what it’s like to interact with Wally most of the time:

And he is still embracing his kid at heart (or maybe it’s just that he still likes me). Earlier this year, I accidentally tried to grab his hand when crossing a street to get to basketball (because this is still something I do for Vivvi), and I apologized, seeing all his buddies around. He didn’t feel embarrassed, and he didn’t want me to feel embarrassed either—to the point where he even said, “It’s okay, Mom! I’ll hold your hand!” and then walked me across the street safely.

He is living his own life. He’s independent. He doesn’t need our help, so he forgets sometimes we have some to give.

A few weeks ago, Wally mentioned he was going to do the school geography bee. “Interesting,” I said. “Can parents go?”

“I think so,” he said.

“Where is it, and when?” I asked. “I want to go.”

“I’ll let you know,” he said. And then he delivered on his promise. At 2:55 pm that day, he texted me. “The geography bee is in the gym at 3.”

I rushed out the door, parked (possibly illegally), and made it into the gym as the bee started. The event started with a word of congratulations: ten percent of the school got to participate based on a pre-test they had taken weeks ago. During the event, Wally proceeded to deductive reason and Slumdog Millionaire his way to the final round (with a question to identify the Netherlands for this Dutch boy getting him through round two). Several students had studied at home and cared a great deal—evidenced by their tears when they got a more challenging question and were eliminated. I was proud of his performance, considering I just found out about it that morning. It was a pleasure to watch—with the 50 or so other parents who likely did NOT find out about this event 5 minutes before it started.

Which brings me back to the music video project. After my initial jam session, we didn’t discuss it over the next few days, and it slipped to the back of my brain. The morning the project was due, he mentioned he was excited for music class.

“Did you finish the video?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Let me watch it,” I insisted. He resisted my request, telling me I would definitely hate it. That I would tell him it was bad. That I would make him change it.

“Where do you get these ideas?” I asked. And how dumb is this dumb thing going to be? I thought.

“I will not say a word,” I say. About your totally dumb video.

Then, I retrieved his computer. Opened it. Forced his hands to type the password on the threat of withholding all my love forever (and no dessert that night), and made him pull it up.

It turns out, it is my favorite work of creative genius I have ever seen. I obsessively watched it 1,000 times that day, so I feel like I am in a good place to judge.

I’m so happy he is his own person—who gets to live his life, and be himself, and tell me no when I offer terrible ideas. I am happy he has his own vision, and lives in his own marvelous head, without me there to interfere. In short, I guess that I am happy that he is not me, but something even better: my son. As the saying (apparently) goes, “Green. Green. Greeeeeeeen.”

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