On my refrigerator, there's a "project." It was from when Adam was in preschool at the New City YMCA in Chicago, in December of 1998.
I was working as a seventh grade Social Studies teacher at a public school in a tough neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. I was wearing a suit that day-- all the male faculty members wore them that day as an example for the students. At Adam's school, it was "Family Night." The school's gym was filled with stations where kids and parents could make all kinds of projects. At one station, they took a Poloroid picture that they put in a frame that your kid had decorated, then attached magnets to the back.
It's funny to look back at the picture as a time capsule. Adam was in the first year of his education. I was twenty five pounds heavier and ten years younger. He was 4 and i was 37. I had just settled a bruising custody fight Adam's mother. Suddenly, after only sporadic visits, he was on a regular schedule of seeing me on weekends and holidays. You look at the picture and make your decision about how he felt about it.
This past weekend was one of his weekends with me. This one was a little different from most; when the weekend ended, he would return to his mother's house, and then on Monday, today, begin high school.
I made sure to schedule a bunch of things I knew he liked. We did Chinese buffet on Friday, and watched "School of Rock," one of his favorite movies, on Friday night. On Saturday, we went to Uncle Fun's, the greatest store in the world. We played putt-putt golf at Novelty Golf (Chicagoans usually call it "The Bunny Hutch," which is actually the name of the small restaurant that is part of it.)
Saturday night, one our good friends had a birthday party-- his 37th, ironically. Since I had to work, Kim brought the kids there, and I was able to call in a favor and got off of work early and joined at a reasonable hour.
Watching the kids play happily together-- the electric "shocking" pen that Adam got at Uncle Fun's was a big hit-- I felt a sense of relief. I realized that a series of decisions I'd made over the years had paid off. Adam is a happy and well-adjusted young guy.
On Sunday, when I dropped Adam off with his mother, we met at an Office Max store near her home so that I could give her a coupon I had, and some money, my share of the cost of a graphing calculator we were purchasing for him. He was carrying the new backpack and clothes that I bought him this weekend.
As they got in her car and got ready to go, I sensed that she was struggling to hold it together. "You ready for this?" I asked her. I knew the answer already. "No," she replied.
I, on the other hand, was doing much better. I'm sure the tightness in my chest was just from middle age and the humidity.