There were too many decisions, too many questions for her, especially for a rainy Friday afternoon at a restaurant so close to campus, a place with “beer” in the title. Especially after the Samuel Adams Brewery tour we’d just taken. And so, she froze.
I’d seen that very look on Liane’s face many a time before, first on the soccer field at Boston University, where she and I played defense next to each other back in the day, back before our waiter asked her one too many questions. Surely, back before he was even old enough to talk. I knew she just needed a moment.
So when Justin — they’re always named Justin — asked us if we had any questions, I saved Liane with a diversionary tactic:
“What’s the meaning of life?” I asked. And without missing a beat, Justin replied, “Have fun.”
Those are wise words from someone who’s younger than most of my sports bras. Maybe he’s a philosophy major, or perhaps the social chairman of his fraternity. Either way, Justin spoke the truth, and he spoke it at precisely the right time. For me, anyhow.
Which might have something to do with how I’d found myself in Boston this weekend, sans Hubby and kids. Rather, I spent a few days with a bunch of my college soccer friends on an impromptu trip to my alma mater that I’m still not sure how I managed to pull off. Usually, there are jazz band carpools and soccer games, homework to check and refrigerators to fill, all of which get in the way of anything that might possibly put Mom first. Usually, there’s the complicated rescheduling and the must-attends that need to be heeded, never mind the guilt of essentially running away from home smack in the middle of a school year.
But not this time. This time, this mom needed to park her mini-van in her friend Carol’s narrow driveway, just long enough for three cars, but not quite wide enough for anyone to get out of them. After I’d steered my Soccer Mom-mobile up to the chain-link fence behind Carol’s home, she waited on the sidewalk, greatly amused, wondering how I’d get out of my submarine of a car. When I didn’t hesitate to climb over three rows of seats and emerge from the hatchback, she must have known that her old friend Jen hadn’t changed all that much, even though I’d been through so very much since our college days.
I mean, do other cancer-survivoring, middle-aged moms move so nimbly through mini-vans? Maybe only when there’s a much-needed weekend off ahead with the kind of friends who “knew you when.” And, of course, a brewery tour that ends in a tasting room.
Throughout the short trip, there was the obligatory visit to the university bookstore for goodies for the kids, visits to old haunts, and a college hockey game during which Liane and I threw popcorn and pieces of pretzel at each other while her husband wondered how he had the misfortune to sit between us. I opted for the temporary tattoo of the school mascot on my right cheek instead of face-painting “BU,” knowing full well that I’d have wiped my face and ended up with “PU” by the second period. And I didn’t need that ending up on Facebook.
About ten minutes into the game, I couldn’t help but point out to my friends that when we were in college, the players on the ice that night weren’t even born yet.
Groans, followed by lots more flying popcorn.
Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, though, was the deliciously lazy lying around, trying to decide what to do next, while snow piled up on my mini-van out back. There’s never, ever any lazy lying around in my house, except the kind of end-of-day unwinding involving the Tivo, which gets paused every few minutes for blurted reminders to put away a clarinet or to close-the-back-door-we-don’t-live-in-a-barn. Perhaps the most cherished part of Mom’s Great Escape was spent on a leather chair by a fire laughing with old friends.
I could have — and likely should have — ended this story with me riding past campus, singing along with the Mavis Staples CD that Carol had given me, as I headed home to my family. Except, I kept Mom’s Great Escape going back home in New Jersey. I flitted through my house while my husband and the kids were busy at the Boy Scouts’ Klondike Derby, and then got back into my mini-van to go meet my brother for dinner and a Southside Johnny concert, our Christmas present to each other.
As Southside played his classic, “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” I agreed with him. I wanted a few more songs, another hour or so until I had to report back home for Mom Duty and loads of laundry and putting Mom last. Luckily, I got it.
If you’re dismissing my escape, chalking it all up to a pint-sized, mid-life crisis, consider this: You can’t have a mid-life crisis when you’ve been barely two months from death. After six rounds of chemo, five weeks of radiation and three-and-a-half years to process all that and the idea that I might not have been here to watch my children grow up, this isn’t mid-life. It’s not halftime; it’s overtime. And Justin was right about the meaning of life. (Also about the chowder: too many spices.)
After the concert, my brother and I said our goodbyes on the corner and dashed off to our cars. I was running — we always run when we leave concerts, so we can beat the traffic. Besides, I was alone, it was late and my mini-van was parked in a dimly lit lot. Suddenly, a sign I’d raced past stopped me cold. I walked back to read it more carefully. In spring green with white letters, it read: “Treat Yourself Well.”
Turns out, Justin was only half-right. The missing moral for Mom’s Great Escape and the meaning of life came from the window of a frozen yogurt shop in Montclair, New Jersey.
I’d already been having fun, whether I was coaching 17 soccer players to victory in the mud of Morris County, or sitting in my mini-van in the garage with the kids so we could hear the end of something funny on the radio, I already knew how to have fun. I’d just forgotten how to treat myself well.
When I got to my car, I texted my brother to tell him I’d made it there safely, turned on the engine, turned up my radio and went home. As I drove past the yogurt shop, I decided that, from now on, I won’t have to escape to do what the sign said.
Share, share: How will you treat yourself well today?