Tag Archives: Mothers and sons

On Sons & Thunderstorms

When my son was still wrapped up like a burrito, every time there was a thunderstorm, I carried him outside to the worn wooden bench perched on our front stoop, and, together, we sat and listened to the boomers.

As my burrito grew, he morphed into my l’il Monkey. Whenever we heard thunder or saw that first flick of lightning, we raced to the front door. He’d mastered deadbolts by then, and he turned the knob furiously as if the ice-cream truck were sitting in our driveway. Once outside, we piled on the old bench — my son sat on my lap, holding my hand with a combination of anticipation and fear while I counted: “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand…”

And when the world shook, we laughed, and he begged for another so we waited impatiently for the next thunder-clap to shake our world.

For years we watched the skies darken, the clouds quicken, felt the air grow heavy on our skin. We listened to water slap our sidewalk angrily, and we both came to see how it works: how storms can be furious and yet temporary. He learned that even the scariest storms pass.

I know children who are terrified of thunder and lightning – kids who put their hands over their ears and cry or hide, but my son was raised up on late May storms: flashes of light and all that racket.

Maybe it’s because we imagined G-d taking a shower.

{The way my Monkey was starting to take showers.}

Maybe it’s because we imagined G-d needed to fill up the oceans.

{The way my Monkey was starting to have responsibilities.}

Maybe it’s because he imagined G-d stomping around looking for something He had misplaced.

{The way Monkey misplaced things and got all stompy and frustrated.}

Maybe it’s because he liked talking about G-d and trying to relate to Him.

“G-d makes rain. And rain makes the world grow, Mommy!” l’il Monkey told me as he stared at the yellow lilies, thirsty for a drink.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that with each summer storm, my summer-son was getting “growed up” too.

One May, I saw my son needed a new raincoat and boots for puddle stomping.

“I don’t need a coat. Or a ‘brella.” Monkey said as a matter-of-fact.

And he ran out into the downpour.

Unprotected.

Now I’m not saying it’s smart to go outside and run around on a lawn during an electrical storm, I’m just saying that we did.

We made up goofy dances, sang ridiculous songs, and chased each other around the yard in our bare feet until we were mud-spattered and drenched.

These days my little burrito is 13 years old.

We live in a different house with a less inviting front stoop. Plus, he’s gotten all teenager-ishy so we don’t really do the thunderstorm thing anymore.

One day, when I am an old woman and I hear the distant clatter of thunder, I will remember tiny yellow rain coats and tiny yellow rain-boots. I may not remember much else, but I will remember those little moments — perhaps as one long blurry moment — when the world turned chocolate pudding and everything was positively puddle wonderful.

What do you remember about thunderstorms? What little mommy-moments do you cherish?

On Valentine’s Day & Half-Birthdays

It’s Valentine’s Day, and the person below is officially 12 & 1/2.

This poem was written in celebration of him.

the boy is all cheeks. 

he sits on a slope, fingering the grass

along the edges of an old flower box, grass

the mower blades always miss. 

tall green spikes with tips

still intact and pointing upward, stretching

toward sky, the daffodils open

their yellow mouths, lean in toward the boy

sing-songing words

only rocks understand.  

he is speaking of his contentment,

telling the triangular lupines about his day:

his pancakes at breakfast,

his discovery about doors (that they open

and close), about the milky smell of his blanket, or

how right it felt to be held

the hour before. it is a moment

without the crunch of car tires, a moment

without demand. no one needs

to be fed or wiped or comforted. it is a moment

without clutter, no toys on the floor,

no books needing to be stacked. 

nothing to straighten or fold. it is a moment

to keep. the boy is mine. 

the world is purple flowers.

Do you celebrate half-birthdays?

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Non-Traditional Super-Hero Powers

“Mom,” Monkey asked one morning while hunched over a bowl of cereal, “If you could have one non-traditional super power what would it be?”

“What do you mean ‘non-traditional’?”

“You know, no flying or super strength or x-ray vision. Something different. Like the ability to shoot Nerf pellets from your fingers!”

He was awfully perky for 6:50 am.

I thought for a while, but it was before 7 am, and my mind isn’t used to thinking non-traditionally at that hour. At that hour, my brain is generally in more of a bed and pillow mode. If necessary, I can force it to fast-forward to toast and tea mode. But after a few minutes, I figured it out.

Monkey gets some pretty bad migraine headaches.

“I would like to have the ability to take headaches from people and deposit them into soil where they would turn them into purple flowers.”

“That’s cool,” he said, “But weird. Very weird.”

“You said non-traditional!” I protested.

Monkey swirled his Lucky Charms around in his orange Fiesta-ware bowl.

“What about you? What power would you like to have?”

“I’d barf rainbows.”

It was a little early to be talking vomit. Still, Monkey felt compelled to continue.

“You know how throw-up is stinky? I figure, at least if I barfed rainbows, the clean-up part would be kind of beautiful.”

“Dude,” I asked. “Have you ever heard of the saying ‘Apples don’t fall from pear trees’?”

Monkey nodded.

“Let’s just say that’s cool. But weird. Really weird.”

Monkey and I had a good breakfast laugh over that one. And, of course, it got me thinking: This question would be a fantastic new ice breaker activity for the first day of classes in the fall! And it also got me wondering:

What non-traditional super-hero power do you wish you could possess?

Lessons From Fictional Mothers: A Guest Post From Julie Gardner

Julie C. Gardner. Looking fancy. No kids. No dogs.

Back on May 13th, I celebrated my one year blogoversary. I had it in my head to surprise the person who posted a comment closest to my original launch time with a gift card for $20 to his or her favorite bookstore. I also decided that this “gift” would come with strings attached, as I planned to ask the recipient of the reward to write a little somethin’-somethin’ about the book he or she purchased. (Seriously, how manipulative is that?) As you can imagine, depending on your perspective, this “gift” could have been considered a heinous curse. Thankfully, the fabulous Julie C. Gardner responded to my May 13, 2011 blog at 5:21 PM, and became the winner of my extra-secret super-stealth-mode-blogoversary-contest. (*Cue the paper streamers and the cheesy horn.*)

But Julie was so gracious! She was not only excited to receive my offer, she took control of it. She told me not to fuss with purchasing a book or even a gift card; she would buy the books herself. She simply asked me for a few recommendations of titles – and I shot her a check in the mail. FYI: Julie Gardner is the easiest person in the world to shop for. Ever. She is also an amazing writer. When you visit her blog, By Any Other Name, you will see what I mean. Julie gets people to confess things. She knows stuff about me that some of my friends don’t know. How does she do that?

So, thank you, Julie, for giving me the best blogoversary gift: a piece of writing, inspired by a few books that I really loved, a reminder of the love we mothers have for our sons, and a mutual appreciation for truth-telling in writing. And now, here’s Julie. Call her “Awesome.”

• • •

So I’ve been reading. A lot. And not simply because I’m an English teacher-slash-writer; or because Renée bought me a few books* to celebrate her blogoversary. (Hooray!) No, to me reading is legal procrastination. It implies I’m serious about my work; researchy, even. (I know “researchy” isn’t a word, but neither is “complainy,” and I use that one frequently. I’m an English teacher. I take liberties. With frequentiousness. Or whatever.)

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Reading. A lot. More specifically, three books with a common theme:

Mother + Son = Complicated Relationship.

(That’s the only math in this post. You’re welcome.)

And now, cue the gist, with no Spoiler Alerts necessary:

First, in Emma Donoghue’s Room, five-year-old Jack and Ma are prisoners in the storage shed of their captor, a kidnapper who “fathered” the little boy. Young Jack has spent the entirety of his life inside Room believing nothing real exists Outside; until his fifth birthday when Ma decides he must attempt an escape, thereby risking a separation that’s unimaginably terrifying.

Next, Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin explores the aftermath of a Columbine-esque massacre. The story unfolds entirely in letters written by Eva (the mother of the teenaged killer) to her estranged husband, Franklin. Having nothing left to lose, Eva admits to feeling ambivalent about motherhood, horrified by Kevin’s darkness, and ultimately resigned to surviving the downfall of the family she feels unsuited to embrace.

Finally, Lisa Grunwald’s The Irresistible Henry House follows the life of an orphaned baby named Henry who is “mothered” by a series of college coeds in the (historically accurate) Practice House of a well-intentioned university’s home economics department. Abandoned by his biological mother, Henry is adopted by Martha, the childless head of the program who treats Henry as her sole reason for being. This string of disproportionate attachments hinders Henry’s ability to connect and trust as he becomes a man.

Got it? Good.

Because I spent three weeks engrossed by these mothers and sons; three weeks witnessing their disasters; three weeks during which I’d pause and think, “Crap, I’m glad this isn’t my life!”

(Except in fancier words because I am, after all, an English teacher and therefore fancy.)

Like this: Woe to these women confronting fear and loneliness and death! I can’t imagine such depths of despair!

And also this: Hope leaks from them until they lose the will to fight the loss. What have they to do with me?

(Or whatever.)

Indeed, it’s easy to compartmentalize these mothers as Fiction-Only. Such tragedy wouldn’t happen in real life. Except it did. And it does.

The unlikelihood is irrelevant; because the best novels carry us to the unexpected, the unfathomable , the extreme; while holding up a mirror and daring us to look.

Despite my comfortable “separateness” from Martha and Ma and Eva, I couldn’t help noticing similarities between these wrecked women and me. (And not merely of the “I have a son, too” variety; although I do have a son who will be fourteen next week.)

…These mothers have good intentions. Hey. I have good intentions!
…They’re redefined by the very existence of their sons. Most definitely.
…They commit themselves to their tasks; make sacrifices they question but endure; struggle with their own incidents of selfishness. All right. This is true for me, as well.
…They are, at times, disappointed by their sons. Yes. Sadly, yes.
…They have needs and desires; battle insecurity and pride; display strengths and weaknesses exacerbated by their sons. And, oh yeah, I do too.
…They learn that death is not, in fact, the worst dénouement imaginable. Because it isn’t. If you think hard, it’s not.

These three books chafed me with their honesty. Martha, Ma and Eva say what most mothers never dare to in words that made me nod and blush and fold the pages for revisiting.

Mothers do not often admit to having resentment or favorites or paralyzing regret. We foolishly expect to control our human frailties once we become parents. But then we don’t. Abandon our frailties, I mean.

In fact, our flaws announce themselves in stark relief against the backdrop of perfection we imagine.

These authors, however, tear down the backdrop and expose what parenthood – in its most distilled moments – can teach us:

That hope and love can be more difficult than loss.

But oh. We cannot ever give it up.

The hope, I mean.

And then, of course, the love.

What did you think you knew about parenting but have found yourself questioning? How has the truth of parenting been different from what you expected?

• • •

*NOTE: There is no way that Julie could have purchased all three of these books from my paltry $20. So thank you to Julie for subsidizing some of my blogoversary present. Seriously.

Breaking Up With A Friend

photo "Sindone Days" by _ankor@flickr.com

Our friendship started just short of ten years ago, when our sons gravitated towards each other at Gymboree. It was almost as if each knew that the other was an only child, and while one was mobile and the other was not, they managed to stick pretty close to each other, climbing over mats and across obstacle courses. Of course, she and I were immediately drawn to each other – two young mothers appreciating how nicely our children played together. We were amazed to discover our similarities: we had both been English teachers and attended colleges in the East. One of her sorority sisters had been a friend of mine in high school; their financial guy was someone I’d known in high school. Like me, she loved horses. And books. We’d both played the flute.

Over the weeks, months, and years, she became the best friend I ever had. Pathological as it sounds, except for when she packed up her station wagon and went to her place in the mountains for five excruciating weeks each summer, not a day went by where one of us didn’t call or see the other. We went grocery shopping together and bathing suit shopping together. We ate lunches at her house and dinners at mine. And I never tired of her. Ever.

As the boys’ grew older, her son grew heavier while mine grew lean. Hers preferred to stay in his pajamas and watch television while mine was up and at ‘em with a “sproing” in his every step. We tried to hold them together – even forced them to play together – but theirs was a friendship born out of our desire for things to stay the same.

"slowly withering away" by megyarsh @flickr.com

One day, I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I realized our friendship was unraveling. Once, we had once joked that we were Frog and Toad, the infamous amphibian duo created in a series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, but suddenly, it just didn’t feel good anyone. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It wasn’t sudden at all. There had been a series of transgressions on both sides. Years of hurt feelings that had never been addressed. What makes relationships end?

One cold, gray day, in the midst of my internal drama, I visited the tailor to have a few dresses altered. It was an errand that had been on my to-do list for a long time, and I felt good about finally taking the action step. I pulled my turtleneck over my head and alternated from one outfit to the next as the tailor marked the soon-to-be new hemlines with a special chalky-white line.

That night, as I went through my regular routine – brush teeth, wash face, remove watch, remove earrings – I realized one of my earrings was missing. They had been a fabulous pair, antique looking and sparkly, with just the right kind of clasp to keep them from slipping out of my ears. My friend had bought them for me years earlier, and the gesture showed that she knew me perfectly: my taste that favors pretty, old, one-of-a-kinds over anything hip and new and now; she even understood my quirky earlobes that refuse to retain wires or studs. Purchased for no good reason, they were simply “just because,” and I had worn them every day for years.

That night, I barely slept. I was sure somewhere on that tailor’s floor my earring was camouflaged amidst straight pins, stray threads, and lint. Early the next morning, I called the tailor, a stout man who spoke broken English with a heavy Russian accent. He shouted “no understand” and hung up on me. Pulling on my winter coat, I returned to his shop and got down on my hands and knees, searching frantically for my favorite earring. I showed him its lonely partner, cupped in my palm, and he looked through the lost and found pile, cluttered with other people’s lost trinkets. When he gestured toward the vacuum cleaner, I jumped at the chance. Of course, I reasoned, the earring had been sucked up inside the vacuum cleaner. I confidently ripped open the dusty bag.

It wasn’t there.

As the tailor’s door shut behind me with a thud-slam, I knew it was gone. Yes, the earring, but also the friendship. I had to stop searching for it and let it go. Buddha said: “There is no peace in the world until you find peace within yourself in this moment.” I am not angry with my old friend; there is nothing to forgive. No one did anything terrible, but our relationship had become something confused for friendship. I’d be lying if I said the loss wasn’t difficult. Detox is never easy; ask any addict. And she and I, we had a ten-year habit.