Forty-nine mixes later

His job is to build music mixes. He has created about thirty so far. He will make one for each hour, exactly nineteen songs each. Thematic titles include: Eagle Eye, Boys go to Jupiter, Girls have Cooties, Don’t, 3rdDegree Burns, The Start of Something Good, Oxygen, Slumber Party, Skyline, Say it Loud, Outer Space and Bad Ass Women Sing!. They include songs that span time, genre and popularity. Medieval church music, Lady Gaga, Illinois and Sweeny Todd all share some purpose in each discrete playlist vision. The mixes are copied on CDs with colorfully designed labels and liner notes; then placed in a special travel pack in some byzantine order known only by he who assembles them.

My job is to build a spreadsheet. It is complicated. And color coded. Fourteen days of mileage, hotels, friends to call, attractions and expenses. I insert columns when I am panicked. How can I justify leaving for two weeks after starting a new job only two months ago? I haven’t been away from work for this long since I was on maternity leave giving birth to my traveling companion. Why do I choose now? I have lists within lists of preparation. Organization comforts me.

His job is to determine what colleges he wants to visit. His resume is not easily sorted by matrices and measures. His test scores and grades are very good, his contributions impressive. But how to factor his larger than life personality: contextual wit, preternatural insight, cultural breadth and a spectacularly mercurial temperament? His real life has a three dimensional quality that will be hard to capture on an application. And he has a definite point of view as to what opportunities will be worth the effort. His strategy? See as many campuses as he can, apply where he is passionate, aim high and see what happens. He has the Fiske Guide, Lauren Pope, navigating software from school and the World Wide Web. He has picked eleven tours, ten information sessions and a few drive bys. He registers; I put the dates and times in my spreadsheet.

My job was to keep it realistic. I have failed at this. We are driving from Chicago to Toronto, down through Niagara Falls to upstate NY, across MA, to Boston, NYC, DC, Williamsburg, through Appalachia to Nashville and back. Forty-nine total hours of driving. I should have kept to north or south or six schools or six states or some parameter less than every map destination east of the Mississippi. But he is convincing and charming. And I am not realistic by nature. Organized, but not realistic. 

His job will not be driving. He has not felt so inclined to get his license just yet. Why will he need to drive if he lives in a city? I suspect he may reconsider after the need for a road trip chauffeur has passed. His job is to dream up opening lines and outlines for essays as inspiration hits. Instead, he will repeat uncanny impressions of each person who orders in front of us at the Oasis McDonalds. We will stop at the Cracker Barrel General Store and buy ironic candy. His job will be to read the wrapper from the Big Hunk candy bar and we will laugh hysterically for the millionth time. His job will be to keep me from getting stopped by the police for some minor infraction that I will make worse by being combative.

My job will be to guess how each song on the mix fits the theme. I will tell him stories about growing up and ask him questions about the universe. He will share his thoughts about philosophy and physics and Donnie Darko and I will be perpetually astounded that he is only seventeen. My job will be to keep us on schedule. Actually he will do that as well. We travel remarkably well together. We both get up early and like to know what is planned for the day. We are agile but not spontaneous. We both know all the words to “One Tin Soldier.” 

His job is to keep us focused on the college search. My job is to remember that next year he joins his brother in the world of I-stop-by-home-a-few-days-between-finals-and-internships. My job is to relax and allow time to stop ticking from one row to the next on my spreadsheet. I will give way to this vagabond interlude, which is anything but work, far from a job, and simply drive my son these last few miles before he slams the car door and is gone.




10 responses to “Forty-nine mixes later”

  1. Tim says:

    (Raising my fist as I help to line the road along your trip)

    One tin soldier road awaaaaay!

  2. J-Man says:

    Pandora, you’re such an amazing mom and a great writer. When does your novel come out?

  3. Tim says:

    Er, “rode”. Damned homophones.

  4. PB says:

    Tim – I totally knew what you meant – although we may be two of 12 people on the planet who remember that movie. I have the boy with the ice cream cone on his face burned into my kid memory.

  5. Missy says:

    Love it, love it, love it. I’m so glad you are posting here again.

  6. J-Man says:

    PB – it’s one of my favorite movies of all time! A couple of years ago we went to a 40th anniversary screening of the movie, and Tom and Delores were there. It was just so great.

  7. swells says:


  8. Dave says:

    Pandora, you’ve outdone yourself with this post.

    Here and in your previous posts on your boys growing older and leaving home, I’ve understood that there’s a whole mix of emotions for you. A certain sense of loss, a lot of pride and hope for them as they become more independent and set off to lead their own lives, a pleasure in new relationships with the gown-ups they’re becoming. It sounds like a very satisfying process for all of you, on the whole, although it also seems like the sense of loss never quite goes away. Does that sound right?

    Anyway, I hope the tour goes/went well.

  9. PB says:

    Dave – I so appreciate how much this community has supported my mothering journey the past few years. And your assessment feels very right. The loss is an odd thing – a huge component is uncertainly. What is my evolving role? Teasing apart my own experience with their possibilities. But I do not take for granted for one minute that I can explore the higher Maslow layers of parenting adolescents because the ones I live with are so extraordinary at navigating their own basic needs. I am a lucky woman.

    The trip starts on Saturday – yippee!

  10. Kirsten says:

    PB– I am so thrilled for you to experience this with WB. I am curious to see which school he picks… I’ll call you before you embark on Saturday to discuss our future quilting weekend. (Can WB make a mix CD for that?)