Christopher and I were sitting in a convocation hall filled with people, all proudly watching their loved ones receive degrees. It was noisy and busy, but when I saw his girlfriend Pammy, 23, enter the hall in her graduation robe, I waved excitedly. She excitedly waved back. Christer pretended he didn’t know me.
“Never fall in love with the girlfriends,” a reader told me years and years ago. The thought has lingered in the back of my mind. I’ve dismissed it, of course, because every kid who crosses my threshold is welcome whether they make me jump for joy or hide the silver. I’m aware romantic relationships can be more fraught than other friendships, but my sons have been free to bring home anyone they care about. Every kid is special.
I learned a while ago that not a lot of girls were brought around because of me, not them. “You can kind of be a bit much,” I was told. I found this confusing. I make excellent conversation and consider myself an adequate hostess, and I always make sure I have pants on when new people are around. I have erred, it seems, in being visible at all. Roles have reversed; I should be seen and not heard. And preferably not even seen.
Pammy was different. She’s been dating Christopher for 5 years now, a feat I find simultaneously astounding and darling. She’s lived with us for the past 4 years, and though I was hesitant at first, this young woman has worked harder than anyone I know, and every time I threaten to throw my son out, I stop to consider I would be throwing her out, too. And then I don’t do it.
She has worked part time jobs as she studied. I’ve seen her at her laptop long into the night; early classes; late classes; group projects and midnight deadlines. I come home to a full fridge and a clean bathroom; she scoops litter; she folds laundry. She recently bought her first car and not only asked for my advice, but took it. She is paying off her student loans early. She calls me Mama Lorraine.
So don’t fall in love with the girlfriends, they say. I get it. But what seems to be forgotten is that this girl, this young woman, is someone I admire beyond the bounds of her role in my son’s life. I would work with her in a professional setting (in fact, I do; she is my lead hand on a project I’m working on), and I would support her regardless of her relationship with my son. He looked at me one day and said, “she’s pretty special, isn’t she,” and it wasn’t a question. I didn’t raise her; I just raised a young man who appreciates her. Nobody knows the future, but this is a lovely present.
As we watched her accept her degree, I glanced at Christopher. His formal schooling is on hold, as we say in polite company. There was no denying the pride in his eyes as he bellowed out a line from Game of Thrones as his beloved’s name was announced. I looked at him quizzically, but the laughter that ensued made me realize I was about the only one who didn’t get the joke. He knew what I was thinking, though.
“I think I’d only consider going back for a degree in keilbasa,” he said over the noise. I looked at him in horror.
“Are you kidding me? Kielbasa?” His turn to stare at me. “I said philosophy. You seriously just thought I said I wanted a degree in kielbasa?”
Like I said, every kid is special.