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Lorraine Duffy Merkl Headshot

Pilot Lessons

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Sometimes I purposely make the whirring noise of rapidly spinning propellers to punctuate the fact that like many Manhattan mothers I am called a "helicopter."

"Your mom stopped by to see me. She's intense," said the thirty-something teacher to my 17-year-old son, Luke, the day after the parent/teacher conferences at his Bronx high school.

"Did you hear what Luke's teacher said about me?" I said to my husband, Neil.

"Well, you are," he retorted.

I went on the defensive: "That's right, and proud of it. 'Intense' is how I get things done." And I do get things done. Not just for Luke, but for my 14-year-old daughter, Meg, as well.

My intensity is what gets me through Meg's IEP meetings with the DOE where their job is give her as little as possible, and mine is to get her as much as she needs.

I am always the first mommy on line signing up for some class, getting Luke the books he needs. I have woken up at the pre-wee hours to stand on line for a Miley Cyrus book signing at Barnes & Noble and Justin Bieber tickets at Macy's. Whatever. My intensity has served them well up to now. For what some might deem "the least little thing" I am calling or emailing a teacher or administrator to make sure neither of them is being short-changed.

But Luke will soon be going into his last year of high school and on to college, so it seems it's time to turn in my "pilot's license." There comes a point though when shielding and caring transforms from endearing to embarrassing with a suffocation chaser.

I cringe when I watch the current Capri Sun commercial with the mother who is everywhere her son is, answering for him in class, laughing at the joke he tells to a group while she combs his hair, and fending off the dodge ball in gym class so he doesn't get hit. I never did any of those things to Luke, though I probably would've if I could've. It's just that his school had some rule about parents not being allowed to attend class with the students. What can I say? I became a mother when the age of the s'mother, sanctimommy and mother superior entered very NYC playground.

Even though I know it's time to let go, it's still a really hard habit to kick. I found that out recently when Luke did not get a summer internship at a tech service company to which he'd applied and for which I was positive he was a shoo-in. Not just because I'm his mother and think the world of him, but also because he actually brought to the table a marketable skill. About a year ago, Luke started his own business fixing iPhones, iPods, and computers. We call my dining room table "Luke's Genius Bar." (I can't set the table without finding some errant tiny screw or wire.) This summer gig seemed like a natural progression for him to step up his game and work with experts in a professional environment.

It also seemed like the perfect answer to my husband Neil's constant question, "Do you think he can find a job this summer?"

I held a job when I was in high school, as did my husband Neil: he in Queens, I in the Bronx. In fact, for my Sweet 16, I asked my mother what I was getting and she said, "Working papers."

So that's what we know. But we come from a different time. In the 70s, in order to get a summer job, all I had to do was walk up and down Fordham Road or the Grand Concourse, and I'd have at least three opportunities to choose from thanks to the abundance of supermarkets, clothing emporiums and now-defunct music stores like Sam Goody's; same with Neil and the establishments on Northern Boulevard and Flushing's Main Street.

But before I unleashed Luke on Manhattan's Upper East Side in search of "Help Wanted" signs, I wanted to see if he could put his technical gifts to use. Luke filled out the tech store's application online and we created a resume -- the job experience was pretty slim considering that his only paying employment was last summer as a junior counselor as well as bus counselor, so we listed all the courses he took in school so they'd see he was an honor student and took challenging classes.

We sent it in and then he said, "Now what?" I told him to wait a day and follow up with a phone call, which he did. However he got the hiring manager's voice mail and left a message. And then nothing. Three days and we hadn't heard. He didn't talk about it. I guess he assumed defeat. And then it was time to take matters into my own hands.

I called the hiring manager, making sure from the get-go that this was a friendly call. "I'm sorry to bother you," I said. "My son filled out an application for the internship and before I nag -- although I don't think it's nagging, let's say 'suggest' he call to follow up again, I just wanted to make sure there was still a job to follow up about."

The recruiter was lovely. He told me he understood and had just returned to the office and was backlogged. They had three spots and thirty applications, which he was going through currently. He asked for my son's name. "Oh, yeah, I've got that right here with a notation to call him. I'll probably get to that tomorrow."

The next day, Friday, true to his word, he called Luke and they set up an interview for the following Monday. Neil did practice interviews with him over the weekend. Then the big day came and, while Neil and I were at Meg's end-of-school recital, Luke was at his appointment.

Afterwards, he called to report they talked for an hour, said the guy was a 'bro' and thought it would be really cool to work there because he could learn a lot. He said he'd hear by the end of the week.

I didn't sleep for four nights.

All day Friday every time someone went by the phone I was a little freaked out. I didn't want the guy to call and have it go to voice mail. But there was no call. And sometime around 4:30pm came the email. "Thank you for your interest. Our program is filled to capacity. We invite you to apply again next year."

I wanted to die. I started crying. (I know, I know. A Stradivarius should be so high-strung.)

What brought me a tiny bit of solace was turning on the 5 o'clock news and hearing how in this economy college graduates were taking summer internships that usually would be given to college students who had taken them away from high school kids, just to have a job even for a few months and hoping come September a long-term opportunity would be procured.

When the news had come, Luke was out with his friends. I didn't call and tell him about the response.

He returned home around 11pm. I was up, reading in my bed.

When he came down the hall, I shut my light. Before he turned to go to his room, I called him into mine. As he stood in the door, we spoke in the dark so I couldn't see his face and he wouldn't see mine. "We got an email about the internship."

"Did I get it?"

"No."

And then in his good natured, roll with the punches way that he didn't get from me, Luke said, "Well, I knew it was a long shot. At least I got to see what an interview was like." I agreed and wished him good night.

This would not be the first or the last time he would not get something he wanted. I hoped he would always take the news so in stride.

And with the help of Mylanta, I would have to learn to as well.

I feel fortunate though that I don't have to totally turn off my helicopter engine and go cold turkey. I can ease off. I may be backing out of Luke's life, but I still have Meg and at least four more years to make that whirring propeller sound to let everybody know that when you deal with her, I'm hovering, intensely.