Drum beats

Tonight my son is coming home from England, where he’s been earning his graduate degree. I stand alone at Logan airport, anxiously watching the doors to Customs open and close, waiting to see his familiar frame emerge from that secret area that only international travelers visit. Finally, the doors open, and out steps my Gabriel- looking a bit taller and slimmer than when he left in September, but as handsome and cheerful as ever. He enthusiastically hugs me and teases me about the tears that fill my eyes. I watch him confidently stride toward the parking area and like most mothers, wonder where the time has gone. Just yesterday I was watching him line up with the other kindergarteners to enter a new phase of his life.

When he was little, Gabe tried very hard to fit in with the bigger, louder boys at his school. He hated the fact that he was tall and slender, because for growing boys, one’s body mass matters more than anything. Gabe wore sneakers that were sizes larger than his feet. He disguised his skinny arms under bulky sweatshirts, and tried to hide the fact that the thumping of his heart could be seen when he went without a shirt. However, there were not just physical differences between Gabe and his peers. It seemed that he marched a bit to his own drum. He loved sports, Legos, and little green army men, but he also made up his own music and liked to sketch- always from a unique perspective. I watched him draw a basketball player once and was astounded to see that he began at the feet and worked up to the head, unlike the opposite tact that most of us take. As he got older, he began writing sermons. I would find drafts scrawled on crumpled scraps of paper, thrown under his bed, tossed on the floor to his closet, or on notebooks that were supposed to be reserved for homework.

His individuality did not always set well with his teachers or me. I remember standing in line at his school’s parent night the year he was in seventh grade. His science class was decorated with home-made models of the solar system. They hung from the ceiling, proudly displaying the names of the students who made them. Some were sprinkled with glitter. Some were made from Styrofoam. Many were painted with Day-Glo. I searched for my son’s model, and finally found it in the far corner of the room. It was gray and white, cut from lined composition paper and shaded with pencil. The planets, attached with masking tape, hung limply from a hanger, curling at the edges. It was accurate, but not beautiful. My cheeks burned with dismay and I silently scolded myself for being at my job in the afternoons instead of at home, helping him with projects such as these.

I waited my turn to speak to the teacher, eavesdropping on other parents as they talked about the project. “I was up till midnight finishing this for my daughter,” one parent said.

“We were too! My wife had to go to the craft store at 10 o’clock. We thought we’d never finish!” said another.

“Me too. I should be the one getting the A’s,” giggled a third.

I looked again at my son’s solar system. Saturn’s ring was drooping on one side, the masking tape barely holding it in place. “He did it all by himself,” I realized. “No help. No cheating. No apologies.” It was one of my proudest moments.

Now I watch my son as he easily lifts his bags into the trunk of my car. The little boy who wished to be like his peers has become a man that others wish to be like. He has grown wiser, trading the desire to fit in for the desire to lead. He knows he has to listen for his own heartbeat and follow the rhythm as it carries him to his destiny.

“C’mon.  Let’s go!” he urges.

I guess I’d better hurry, or I’ll be left behind.

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