April 11, 2015
Today was Decision Day at the college my younger son plans to attend this fall. From the moment we arrived on campus, the positive energy was palpable. Helium-filled balloons, giant welcome signs, blue and gold pom-poms and, of course, excited college students welcomed the thousand or so high school seniors as well as their parents for a day of university pride. Once we were checked in, and given our $20 gift card to the school book store, my younger son and I entered a giant reception area where we could fill up on “free” muffins, coffee, juice, and fresh fruit. I say it was “free” because it technically didn’t cost us anything…but once you pay the tuition and room & board fees, those breakfast treats work out to be about $10,000 each! Enough negativity though. The day was about school pride and we bought into it hook, line and sinker. Since the school is in our home state, he was happy to see a few kids he knew from high school while I had a chance to meet and chit chat with their parents. Everyone was brimming with excitement and it was contagious. I fought back tears all morning. Not because I’m sad he’s growing up, though I certainly am. No, my tears were tears of pride and relief because my baby is going to be ok and this morning it finally hit me that he really is. He’s going to be ok. After a few helpful presentations, we walked around the beautiful campus, took some pictures at the admissions building and visited the book store, where we spent more than $20, by the way. All in all, it was a pretty great Saturday morning.
We left just after lunch because I had an appointment; I was scheduled to visit my older son in prison.
Though my son has been incarcerated since March of 2013, I’ve never visited him alone. I’ve always either gone with my ex-husband or my younger son. Today, though, I was solo. What struck me as I walked in was the stark difference between my morning and my afternoon’s activities. When I arrived at the prison, there were no balloons, no friendly faces, and certainly no free food. Instead, I was led through a metal detector and then made to reveal the contents of my pants pockets as well as lift up my pants legs to ensure I wasn’t armed. And the crowd that gathered with me definitely contrasted from my morning’s company. The afternoon bunch consisted of young mothers quieting their babies, older couples frowning to one another, and single visitors like me just politely smiling, not making eye contact, and hoping the visit will begin soon. And, though I was grateful to see my older son again, I wasn’t able to muster the same level of excitement for him as I did for my younger son just a few hours before. Just like every visit I have with him, the tears welled in my eyes from the moment I saw him through the plexi-glass when he lifted up the receiver of the phone. We talked about his most recent run-in with the pod bully and the progress of his current GED students that he tutors. And though he still faces several more months of prison, we can see the end now and we talked about what he’ll do when he’s released. We talked about the halfway house rules he’ll need to follow and how he’ll have to use the city bus since he no longer has a car. We talked for the entire hour and some of it was mundane, but all of it mattered to me because it was all evidence that reminded me that he’s going to be ok. He really is.
Though my morning and afternoon experiences couldn’t have been more different, I have managed to find one thread of similarity between them: Both experiences involved hope. While this morning’s hope was about new opportunities, this afternoon’s hope was about simple survival.
Either way, though, both my sons are going to be ok. They’re going to be ok.