From Boy To Man
A Talisman for My Son
We gave away the swing set today.
Ten years ago, at the peak of the building euphoria when we completed the renovation of and addition to our house, we bought this childhood accessory, fantasizing about the fun times our children would have flying through the air. They were 3 and 7. We had some metal monkey bars from a neighbor, but I wanted swings. I had had a swing set as a child and was determined to provide this accoutrement for my children, hoping it would attract friends and laughter. Happy solitude would be okay with me also. The swing set got a lot of use that first summer. Pretty quickly though, the slide didn’t seem very slippery or very steep. The monkey bars were wood and gave my son splinters. He preferred the ugly metal hand-me-down from before. My daughter could no longer hang upside down without her head touching the ground. The squirrels chewed up the canopy. The next-door neighbors used it more than we did. It has completely languished for the last few years. Finally, it was time. The decade of having young children has passed. The neighbors up the street eagerly accepted the offer, carting it away and power-washing it with enthusiasm. The swing set has new life. They completely surprised me with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine to say thank-you. Four and two, the young girl looked me in the eye and handed me the bouquet of flowers. It was all I could do to not cry. It is time. I wish them friends and laughter; happy solitude; and the sensation of flying to the sky when they swing.
My son turns fourteen this week. My sweet boy is turning into a young man. He doesn’t ask for a lot, but when he does he is very determined to get it. We usually come up with a way to give him what he wants if we see it is important to him. When we asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he surprised us with a thought out answer. He wants a coin on a chain, like my husband. Many of his peers wear a chain with a cross. I suspect he may want a chain like theirs to fit in. But we are not Christian, so he knows the symbolic cross does not belong around his neck. No, better to aspire to the trappings of manhood that his father has adopted and make them his own. My husband’s grandmother gave him an ancient Roman coin that he had mounted and wears on a chain. He treasures this coin and never takes it off. A talisman of extraordinary power and magic. What son would not want the same?
My husband and I were both touched by his request and set about researching the options. My husband found a coin with Neptune/Poseidon on one side (my son’s favorite god) and a boy on a dolphin on the obverse. The boy on the dolphin is, Taras, Poseidon’s son who was rescued from a shipwreck by a dolphin. It also could be the boy version of Genius – representing the notion that a divine inner spirit resides within us and guides us and determines our character. I like that interpretation. And don’t we all need a guardian angel?
As my son turns 14, we are saying good-bye to so many of his childhood ways. His voice is changing. I must get a video of him – IMMEDIATELY – before his young voice completely vanishes. I feel quite urgent about this. He no longer crawls into bed with us. Really. Finally. It is over. For 14 years, he has slipped into bed with us eager for a comforting snuggle, a soothing backrub. When he was a little boy, this was a nightly occurrence. Gradually, it became just weeknights in the early morning hours around 4 am. On the weekends, non-school-nights, he was more relaxed and able to sleep deeply and securely. In the last year or so, the early morning visits have become less frequent – though he remains an enthusiastic hugger and snuggler at other times of the day. Now, I can’t quite remember the last time he came in. Just as well, he is getting so big, he really doesn’t fit – galumphing in between us to find a spot. We knew this day would come. We were pretty sure he’d stop climbing into bed before he left for college. And with high school right around the corner, he seems to be on schedule. I miss my little boy. I am holding my breath for the man he is going to become.
One of the many things I feel I have missed out on by not belonging to a religious community is the tradition of ritual. As he transitions from boy to man, it is an occasion to celebrate with a rite of passage. Without a Confirmation ceremony or Bar Mitzvah, I feel the need to mark his growing maturity and sense of responsibility in some meaningful way. We will have a family party and make a favorite meal and gift him with his Roman coin. We will dance to the Beatles’ Birthday song. And perhaps we will share our thoughts on what makes a good man.
My dear son, as you make the transition from boy to man, know that I am so proud of you. We tend to think of good men as handsome and strong protectors. These physical characteristics don’t last. It is the strength inside you that will make you a good and honorable man. I wish for you to have the courage to speak what is true and important to you and to live according to what you value. Accept responsibility. Seek adventure. Be generous, patient, and loving. Fight for truth. Fight for love. Live with integrity. Live like you have only one life.