I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Mothers and sons

Don’t Guzzle Your Beer

And Other Thoughts 

My son was born thirsty. He would nurse voraciously, gulping, urgently, as if he could not fill up fast enough. He brought this habit to his bottle, to his sippy cup, to his big-boy cup, and ultimately to the gallon of juice in the refrigerator at all times. I felt compelled to tell him, at the age of 7, that he will need to learn to sip alcohol, sloooowly, to savor the taste. I was terrified of the horror stories of 18-year-olds going off to college and guzzling their beer or throwing back shots until they die of alcohol poisoning. Okay, so it was more than 10 years away, but I figured it was never too soon to discuss.

Here we are.

We’ve made the checklists. We’ve got the stuff from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. You know, the shower caddy and shower shoes, new bedding (Extra Long Twin for those weirdly long and narrow dorm beds), hangers, a surge protector, a desk lamp, an umbrella, and myriad other supplies for living away from home. We’ve gone through his old toys and games and art projects. Keeping what has sentimental value (some of the sweet Lego figures he played with in the bath) and giving away the games he never opened. (They seemed like a good idea at the time.) And laundry. We’ve done a ton of laundry. He doesn’t mind doing laundry, so I think he’ll have clean clothes in college. Wrinkled but clean. We’ll see.

Now we wait.

Some of his friends have left already. Some don’t leave for a while. He leaves later this week. We’re sort of ready. (Can you ever be ready?) Kind of eager to get the emotion behind us. Kind of dreading it. Will he like his roommate? Will he like his classes? Will he be homesick? Will he be okay? Will he be happy?

He’s a loyal friend. He’s had a few close friends his whole life. It took him a while to develop and nurture these friendships. He is sad to leave them. He wonders how these friendships will evolve when they are far flung across the country. I try to reassure him that his closest friends will remain close. I am still connected with several of my friends from high school. They were crucially important people to me at a time when we were becoming ourselves. I love them deeply.

I think of all the things I want to say to him. Usually in the middle of the night. I try to nag less and be present more. I try to be near by in case he wants me. I try to tell him my middle-of-the-night ruminations during the few moments when he will allow me into his room, into his space. Stuff like:

  • You don’t have to have it all figured out. Try new things. You can change your mind.
  • Rent your textbooks. Don’t buy them.
  • When I look at you, it’s because I love you, not because I am judging you.
  • Take your vitamins.
  • You can tell me anything. I know you think you can’t, but you can.
  • Go to all the extra help sessions and office hours with your professors.
  • You will make new friends.
  • Take advantage of the city. Explore!
  • You have a deep and loving heart. It is my favorite thing about you. You are a good human being.
  • Choose your professors carefully. The teacher is more important than the class topic.
  • Use the credit card for necessities. Use your own money for entertainment.
  • I am sorry for all the times I disappointed you. Like that Friday night when I was the one who had a tantrum because you didn’t do what I wanted you to do.
  • Be you.

I am proud of you. I will miss you. (More than you know.) I love you.

Oh, and don’t guzzle your beer.

The Pause


Before What Is Next

Well. Here we are. Already. August. End of Summer. End of his childhood. The pause after the exhale before the inhale. Before September, the new school year. 12th grade. Before he begins whatever he will be beginning a year from now. Because we don’t know.

Our vacation this summer was a quiet week in Vermont, just the three of us. I missed my daughter, but it felt important to have this time with him. It was sweet to be away from our routine and entwined together, synchronizing our lives to be focused on each other, if only for the week. We listened to music together, impressed that he had such eclectic taste and appreciation for “our” music of the 1970’s. (Thank you, Guardians of the Galaxy.) We adventured together, zip lining down Mt Mansfield and rock climbing a wall. We walked in the woods, read by the pool, and found restaurants with wings for him, pasta for my husband, and vegetables for me. It was a delicious, restorative break, nothing fancy, and I am trying not to be too sad that it is over.

17 years. Over.

I stare at him. Often. He hates it. He thinks I am judging or noticing something he wished I wouldn’t notice. He is self-conscious. Embarrassed. My gaze is really more about wanting to connect. Wanting him to know, to really know deep down in his soul, that I love him and want him to be happy and to know that he is enough just as he is. I want him to know that I am sorry for all the times I do judge and nag and wish for something to be other than it is.

I spend a lot of time judging and nagging and wishing for something to be other than it is. Like the end of August. The end of summer, the end of vacation, the end of childhood. I don’t want it to be over! Hell, I’m just figuring out how to do it … and it’s over?

So. Instead of clinging and resisting, I am trying – trying! – to be patient with the pause. Open to possibility. Open to change. With not knowing what is next. With not rushing to the inhale, but fully and completely exhaling all the air out and pausing. Appreciating the breath. Appreciating the boy who is becoming a man. Gazing at his graceful shape, searching for eye contact with his soul that is embarrassed to be seen. Trying not to be frantic about the college application process. Trying not to grieve for the time that is gone. Trying not to regret all that I could have done differently. Trying not to regret that I’m not a different mother, but to accept that I am the mother I am. Just as he is enough, I am enough.

We are here. Abiding in the pause. Open to what is next. Because we don’t know. Now is enough. We are enough.

Too Old To Dress Up

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Being Someone Else

“Hey Mom, maybe I’ll just wear some vampire teeth. Mr. C said he would be disappointed if I didn’t dress up.”

My son lets this announcement drop so quietly I could have missed it.

At 16, he is self-conscious and wants to fit in and be cool. Even though, secretly, I know he loves Halloween and dressing up. Well, we can’t disappoint Mr. C! Off we go to find some vampire teeth. (And maybe a cape? And maybe some makeup?)

As a little boy, he would dash from house to house shrieking with delight and dressed up (memorably) as Thomas the Train, Indiana Jones, or Captain Jack Sparrow. I would put all kinds of glow-in-the-dark devices on him, terrified of cars, but there was no stopping him. And who could blame him? A child let loose at twilight, allowed to be someone else, with unlimited candy! What could be more thrilling?

But then the shift happens.

“I don’t think I’ll go trick-or-treating. Maybe I’ll just decorate the house this year.” This announcement dropped like a thud about 4 years ago. We got the sticky, stretchy cobweb stuff for your bushes, a giant mechanical spider that drops down in an alarming way, a very cool fog machine, and a few other tacky and extravagant knick knacks that spend 50 weeks a year in the attic.

The following year it was, “I think I’ll just pass out the candy this year.”

Slowly the willingness to put yourself out there with enthusiastic and ridiculous abandon diminishes. I am no help. I used to love dressing up but now am too busy busy busy to be bothered. Halloween becomes another chore. Decorate. Undecorate. Buy candy. Figure out costumes. There was the year I spent all weekend laboriously crafting a handmade costume for my 2 year old daughter, when all she really wanted was to hang out with me. Do we really need to carve a pumpkin? My husband used to create the most fabulous carved pumpkins, inspired by the kids’ drawings. What happened?

Oh and to state the obvious: A holiday devoted to excessive amounts of candy is a nightmare for someone with eating issues. I used to binge on Halloween candy. Enough to make anyone hate candy for the rest of their life. Here is a useful tip for those of you who haven’t mastered this trick. Convince yourself you hate a food item and then it will become easier to avoid eating it. I HATE HALLOWEEN CANDY! Um, that’s not entirely true. I actually like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and allow myself about 1 on Halloween. Maybe 2.

I digress.

So when that casual nonchalant comment about dressing up this year dropped in my ear so quietly I almost missed it, I jumped at the chance to reignite my son’s childhood love of Halloween as he transitions through murky adolescence. Maybe he will even go trick-or-treating! I can just see them. A few gangly 16-year-olds, towering over their childish counterparts. They probably won’t be wearing elaborate costumes. Their “trick-or-treat” will come from newly deep voices. They may have a bit of scrubble on their faces. No longer children. Not quite men.

Thank you Mr. C for giving my son permission to dress up for Halloween.

Vegan After 6:00


Brown Rice and Mushrooms with Tomato Salad

(This meal is more delicious than it appears.  I was too hungry to be patient and take a good photo.)

It’s just my son and me tonight.

We went to the college fair tonight. You know, the one with tons of people milling around picking up college brochures. The first time I went with my daughter 3 years ago, we fled after about 20 minutes. Overwhelmed. This time I knew more about what to expect. We picked 5 schools to seek out and then grabbed a bunch of brochures. We ran into some people we knew. We chatted with my son’s guidance counselor. Everyone seemed overwhelmed, especially the first-timers. It’s the beginning. The beginning of the next step. That push-me pull-you stage where your child imagines life without you, with great excitement and a little bit of trepidation. That push-me pull-you stage where you imagine life without your child with great anxiety and a whole lot of hope.

Home, it’s time for a late dinner. My son is happy (happy!) with frozen pizza. Blech! He feels the same about my food choices. Long ago, I swore I wouldn’t make separate meals for different people, but I do.

This is what I ate for dinner tonight. It’s Vegan. No animals were harmed for this meal.

Brown Rice and Mushrooms with Tomato Salad

  • 1/3 cup Brown Rice and 2/3 cup of water (I like Lundberg Brown Rice)
  • 6 oz chopped mushrooms
  • 6 oz sliced tomatoes (I like Campari if I can’t get fresh/local tomatoes)

I started cooking the brown rice before we left for the college fair and then turned off the heat when we left the house. The rice was cooked when we returned home.

Sautee chopped mushrooms in olive oil (I use the pre-sliced mushrooms for convenience.)

Sautee the mushrooms until they are brown and almost crispy.

Mix together the rice and mushrooms.

Add the tomatoes.

Drizzle about 1 Tablespoon olive oil and about 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar over everything. The vinegar adds tang and brightness to the rice and mushrooms and the rice tastes good with the tomatoes, like a rice salad.

Salt liberally.

Serves 1…unless your 16-year-old son can be convinced to stray from tried and true frozen pizza.

Rules of the Road


Sweet 16

My son turned 16 earlier this month. A milestone year. For all concerned. I wanted to honor it appropriately, but there is no “sweet 16” tradition for the boys. When I went to pick out a greeting card, there was a shelf devoted to pink and frilly cards for girls turning 16 but nothing for the boys. Nothing. I was so annoyed, I left the store empty handed. Resentful of overpriced greeting cards, I am regularly disgusted with the dearth of cards for boys and men. I should boycott the whole greeting card thing, but I love presenting a loved one with a meaningful card. It seems that only women are the target audience for greeting cards. The ones for men swing between the extremes of crude (Beer and Boobs!) and earnest (“Son, we are so proud.”) I am particularly DONE with cards for “Husband” that show a silhouette of a young man and a young woman, perhaps with a baby. Ummm. Been there done that. A long time ago. I don’t see myself or my husband or my son in these cards.

I went back to the overpriced card store a few days later, still annoyed. (Papyrus. I hate it. Who pays $8.99 for a greeting card! Oh. Wait. I do.) I was drawn to the juvenile section with its simple and bright designs. The completely adorable pirate hat reminded me of his 5th birthday when pirates were the theme. Nostalgic, I bought it. I reread the earnest “Son, we are so proud” card. Maybe it’s not so hokey. Proud of him, I bought it. But the card I probably should have gotten was the race car card.   Driving. Sixteen. Rite of Passage. Here we go!

My son and I are deeply bonded. There is a connection between us that is so strong it takes my breath away. But over the past year, he has increased the separation between us. As he should. Spending time with friends, asserting his differences from me, aligning with my husband, his dad. Besides, I regularly fall into the role of nagging mom, so why wouldn’t he want to move far away from that? Clearly, we will need to carve out new ways to be with each other as he grows older.

I remember teaching my daughter to drive, several years ago. She too had been moving away from me. But these hugely significant growing up activities, like learning to drive and choosing a college, bring them back. Excited to separate, but kind of scared, they tuck right back into the safe embrace of home.

Every weekend we had our driving time together. In the beginning, it was rocky and terrifying. White knuckled, I would exclaim: Watch out for the car! You are too close to the curb! Slow down! But gradually, we moved from the empty parking lot, to the quiet neighborhood, to the slower side streets. She gained confidence and skills. We developed a little routine for our Sunday drives, jaunting over to the next town or two or three, stopping for a coffee or some other treat. And talking. There is something about being in the car together that facilitates conversation. The bond had loosened, so that it could change.  Through our driving times, it reintegrated. At a more mature level.

By the time she got her license, a year had passed and she was 17. A lot of maturing happens in a year at that age. She was ready. Of course, letting her get into that car and drive alone was terrifying to me. And, frankly, it marked a huge step toward independence. Getting in that car. Alone. Leading her life. I missed our Sunday driving sessions. I missed her.   As a parent, you want to protect them and keep them safe forever. But they have to lead their lives, make their own mistakes. You just pray that they don’t die in the process. And cars are scary. Terrifying. Mass * Velocity = Potentially Fatal Accident.

Nagging mother that I am, I told my son, I will take you to get your learner’s permit as soon as you turn 16, but you better study the manual and do the practice tests. You can get a crummy grade in math, but you can’t get a crummy grade in driving. Your life is at stake.

As the day got closer, he took it more and more seriously. So did I. He took the practice tests. We reviewed the questions he got wrong. When we drove somewhere, I talked through all the rules and choices I was making as I drove, suddenly aware of the multiple nuanced calculations one mindlessly makes when one drives. I quizzed him on the rules of the road. He assured me that he knew them.  “Don’t worry Mom, I know the rites of passage.” I smiled. He meant rules of the road, but – as usual – I liked his way of saying it better. Indeed he does know the rites of passage.

And the rules of the road. He passed.

Wild and Joyful Dancing!


The Joy of Dance

A friend of mine posted a photo of her 8-year-old son leaping across a stage, his face lit up with joy. JOY! The expression on his face thrilled me. He wasn’t just smiling. He was beaming! His eyes were smiling. His eyebrows were smiling. His whole body was smiling. His arms were open wide and radiating energy. The photo caught him in mid-air, a feat in and of itself. There was not a speck of self-consciousness. Just pride and joy in his body, the feeling of movement, the pure fun of performing with others. I knew just how he felt and I laughed out loud with joy. So happy for him and his mom. Dancing is so much fun. Especially leaping and flying through the air.

Her son was participating in a program at his school run by the National Dance Institute. NDI programs are offered in public schools impacting 40,000 students annually. They offer classes and workshops that end in a performance experience, with a mission of introducing all kids to dance and engaging them in the arts as a way of learning how to collaborate, work towards a goal, and perform. If anyone doubts the value of arts in education, just look at this photo! I felt inspired and absolutely fierce about defending the role of arts in our world.

My friend confided that her son loves to dance and that she was so appreciative of the NDI program for giving her son an outlet to express himself through dance. She is grateful that the program continues for another year. What’s next went unspoken. But as a dancer and a mother of a son, I took the leap. What’s next is that most boys are not encouraged to dance in our culture. It’s not manly enough nor lucrative enough. No, our manly heroes are sports figures, tech wizards, and movie stars (who all have dance training, btw.) I must say, though, that I do see this changing. Grateful.

If music is as old as culture, surely moving to music is equally old. Dancing is fun and expressive, a way to connect with others. You can tell stories with dance. You can celebrate rites of passage with dance. You can show someone you love them by dancing with them. One of our family traditions is to blast the Beatles Birthday Song on birthdays and dance wildly and joyfully. When my son was younger, he would insist on playing it over and over again so we would keep dancing. It wasn’t every day he got to see his mom dance wildly and joyfully.

What happens to that wild and joyful dancing? As we grow up we are rewarded for A’s and other achievements deemed socially worthy. The playful moments become fewer and their importance is minimized. The 8-year-old boy becomes a 15-year-old-boy with increasing amounts of homework and pressure to get good grades and pursue resumé-building activities that will help him get into college.

Of course there are many ways to feel joy besides dancing with abandon. There are the physical feats, that may involve a bit of speed or fear or adrenalin to catch that thrill. We may avoid the fear of doing that cartwheel or leaping across that stage.  Or, perhaps worse, we may confuse physical joy with an adrenalin rush and require more and more intensity to get the adrenalin to kick in.  But you don’t need adrenalin or fear to find joy. Singing or playing music, sitting quietly in nature, looking a loved one (or a loved animal) in the eyes.  Connecting.

What struck me about this wonderful photograph is that I realized I rarely see this joy on my 15-year-old’s face any more. Somewhere around puberty, that childish lack of self-consciousness and joyful abandon has been replaced with a desire to fit in and a host of emotions related to the pressure to get good grades. A combination of worry and striving mixed with procrastination and some teenage remoteness are more common expressions.  As I spend my midlife wondering where the joy went and how I can get it back before it is too late, I seem to be dutifully knocking it out of my son so that he can be “successful.” This has to stop! I would give anything to see my son’s face and body light up with joy. What a gift that would be! Instead of killing the joy, I must help him to find his joy.  It would probably help if I set a good example by playing, having more fun, and enjoying my own joyful moments, eh?

Lately, we’ve been lax with playing “Birthday.”  The next family birthday is, ahem, my son’s 16th.  It will be a wonderful occasion for some wild and joyful dancing.

Photo Credit:  Photo by Suzanne Pappas Quint of her 8-year-old son leaping with joy.

Hey Mom, Could You Sign This?



It’s 7:06 am and in our precisely choreographed busy busy busy morning routine, that means my son has one minute to get out the door to catch the bus. In between my loading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, organizing everyone’s lunches, and taking a last swig of coffee, my son thrusts a piece of paper at me. “Hey Mom, could you sign this?”

He tried to be nonchalant, but it came across as sheepish.  Waiting for me to yell: “Why do you wait until the last minute? You’ve gotta give this stuff to me the night before! This is just another example of how disorganized and unplanful you are!” But I didn’t yell. I don’t like yelling. I hate it when I yell. I don’t think it helps. He just hides away more, avoiding my judgment. Besides, yelling at him upsets me. Because I love him so much. So, with one minute to spare, I take a breath and calmly look at the piece of paper.

10th Grade Health.  Arguably the most important course he’s taking, except that schools should probably offer this course several years earlier with a more dynamic teacher.  You know the course.  It covers smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex.  And last night’s little assignment.

“List your three top values.”

Okay. Sure. No big deal. Easy.

The clock is ticking.

What should I put down? What are my top 3 values anyway? What should I put that won’t embarrass a 15-year-old boy? Couldn’t he have given this to me last night? We could have had a family discussion. What can I impart of my 52 years of long and hard thinking about the meaning of life into 3 words in 60 seconds. Well, more like 50 seconds by now.

The clock is ticking.

Honesty. I can’t think of any other word. It just bubbles up unannounced. Hmmm. I didn’t know that honesty was my number one value. But there it is. Is that because I’ve spent most of my life chameleon-like pleasing other people, being someone I thought I should be? Now, nothing matters more than for me to be me. Is that because the number one reason I chose my husband is because he was him, the most honest person I had ever met? I write it down. Honesty. 40 seconds to go.

What’s #2? I reach for my yoga, my midlife wisdom. I discard what I might have said even just a few years ago: discipline, hard work, ambition, achievement. Done all that. I check in with my gut. So much wiser than my mind. Ah, there it is. Kindness. Be kind. Lead with the heart. It’s why I wear a heart necklace now. It’s not about me and my ego and my ambition. At least not any more. It’s about love and the people I love and being kind. I write it down. Kindness/Love. 30 seconds to go.

Ack! Now I’m stumped. What’s #3? The clock is ticking. Let’s face it. Smartness matters. I’m pretty determined to be the smartest person in the room. That’s gotta be it. Um, wait. Remember #2. How can I convey my appreciation for all the richness of the world without ego getting in the way? Education? Intelligence? Reading? How can I convey to my son that I want him to appreciate all the richness of the world in whatever way works for him? Ah, there it is. Curiosity. I write it down. 20 seconds.

I sign my name. Pen down! My son grabs his disorganized and jam-packed backpack, he’s ready to go. I look him in the eye, with honesty, kindness, and curiosity, and hand him the piece of paper.

Honesty. Kindness/Love. Curiosity.  May he cherish these values, my values, as he finds his own.

He’s off! 10 seconds to spare. “Thanks Mom! Love you!”

I love you too.

P.S. We had the family discussion later that night over dinner. His #1 value? Family.




Boys Soldier On

I’ve spent the last year focused on preparing my daughter (and myself) for her leaving the family nest and starting college. My son, on the other hand, spent the last year quietly growing up. I think he thinks no one noticed. Maybe he wishes no one noticed. But I did. We did.

Not that long ago, he was still sneaking in (occasionally) for a reassuring snuggle around 4 am one or two nights a week. We never chased him out because we knew the day would soon come when our boy-man would no longer galumph into bed with us. Sure enough, that day came.

Not that long ago, his little boy voice would crack as his young man voice began to assert itself. Now, the little boy voice is gone. Family and friends mistake him for my husband when he answers the phone.

Not that long ago, he would chatter away endlessly. Now, I get one-syllable answers mixed in with eye-rolls and grunts.

I recently read a post about creative ways to get your child to talk to you about their day. Instead of “How Was Your Day?” try “What’s the funniest thing that happened today?” Yeah right, I tried that years ago and just got “M-o-m!” accompanied by an eye roll. It didn’t help that as a working mom, his school day was over eons ago by the time I got home, hindering spontaneous sharing sessions.

Now, he is shaving the scrubble from his face, at least once a month. (“Scrubble” is a combination of scruffy stubble, appropriately descriptive.) And learning about styptic pencils, while I grimace as I imagine the razor slicing his still-quite-smooth face.

The signs appeared on his door over the summer, around his 15th birthday. We had gotten into a bad dynamic where I nagged him to clean his room and he passively-aggressively didn’t. Keep Out! No Coming In! Fair enough. I don’t really like nagging him anyway. Clearly, he was ready for some privacy and some ownership of his space, of his self.

My son is sweet, empathetic, and sensitive. When he was a little boy, I worried that he would get teased. I balanced my desire to keep him sweet and naïve forever with the knowledge that at some point protective layers would envelop him. And so they have. Part of growing up, especially for boys figuring out how to be a man in our culture today, is to adopt some outward characteristics of being cool, which usually means acting like you don’t care, even if you do care. Deeply. And I know he cares. Deeply.

As John Mayer sings in Daughters:

Boys, you can break

You’ll find out how much they can take

Boys will be strong

And boys soldier on

But boys would be gone without warmth from

A woman’s good, good heart

I listened to Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech at the UN. Intently and gratefully. The one where she mourns the fact that her male friends stopped expressing their feelings by the age of 18. The one where she invites men to support feminism and to recognize that men are damaged by gender inequality. The one where she hopes for a world where men can be sensitive and vulnerable and valued as fathers. Because when men don’t feel they have to be aggressive and controlling, then women won’t feel they have to be submissive and controlled. I encouraged my son (who has had a long-standing crush on Emma Watson, though I’m sure I’m supposed to not know that and I’m sure I’m not current on his current crushes) to listen to her speech. Just as I hope my attempt to expose him to lots of nutritious food will someday pay off with him opting for a broader range of food choices beyond macaroni and cheese, so I hope my offerings about life and love and the search for meaning will serve him well as he learns to be true to himself and not be overly bound by social conventions.

Right now, he is eager to fit in and to become a man. Right now, that means appearing to be too cool to care too much. Right now, that means spending more time with friends, identifying with Dad, and carving out some personal space where Mom is not welcome. At 15, that is as it should be.

Mothers (and Fathers), let’s be good to our sons. They will learn how to love from us. While he sorts out who he is and what kind of man he is becoming, I will follow his lead. I’ll listen when he’s ready to talk. I’ll help when asked. I’ll cherish our hugs and Mother-Son movie nights. I’ll imprint those last boyish expressions before they are gone forever, so proud of my young man, who feels so deeply.

You Will Go To Summer Camp Dammit!


Happy at Home 

I have decided my 14-year-old son should go to sleep-away summer camp.

It’s a little late for me to have decided this.

Especially since he is completely appalled at the prospect.

Which is why I’ve decided it would be “good” for him.

Forget that it’s the end of July. Forget that the kids who go to sleep-away camp have been going since they were 10 or younger.   I actually have found a camp for teens that has a one week option that sounds idyllic.  To me.  Hiking, Swimming, Yoga, Creative Writing.  I want to go.

How could he not want to go?  Why doesn’t he want to go?  How much should I worry that he doesn’t want to go?  Should I force him to go?  Would it be like the time I forced him to go to yoga?  Which turned out to have been not very yogic.  Recalcitrant-son-determined-to-be-miserable prodded by frustrated-type A-mother.  You Will Go To Yoga Dammit.

He seems to be happy.  He plays tennis three mornings a week.  I enrolled him in swimming lessons, much to his annoyance.  A crucial life-survival skill, I told him.  Non-negotiable.  When the teacher said he was doing so well he should join the swimming team, my son told me he was kind of enjoying it after all and might want to continue.  Aha!  See?  I should push him more!

The rest of the time, he pads around the house watching television, checking on his basil and tomato plants, playing with our beloved parakeets, lying on his bed daydreaming.  He’ll practice his guitar and do his summer reading with some nagging.  He’ll even do some chores around the house – though it takes some pleading followed by a stern threat that tv-watching privileges will be revoked.  Occasionally a neighborhood friend of his will stop by, grateful for the tranquility of our house compared to the rambunctiousness of his house filled with siblings.  But mostly my son is alone.  Or leading a parallel life with big sister in another room.  Seemingly happy.

For me, his quiet aloneness raises the specter of my lonely only child summers.  Where watching television meant watching whatever was on one of the main channels at the time:  All My Children, Let’s Make A Deal, or Star Trek.  I renounced television as a pitiful waste of time.  Why watch game shows when I could be Achieving Something Great?  I am still quite disdainful of tv-watching, which means I am regularly condescending to my family because they are quite content planted in front of the television.  While they are, god-forbid, relaxing, I busy myself with whatever it is I busy myself with.  Busy Busy Busy.  Achieving Something Great.  I think they are the wiser ones.  Besides, the offerings on television are now so incredibly varied and sophisticated that getting lost-in-tv is way more entertaining and culturally acceptable than 40 years ago.  Indeed, I am beginning to appreciate getting lost-in-tv and am convinced I am going to wish I had figured this out about 20 years ago instead of now.  I am not sure that my son’s multiple viewings of every episode of The Big Bang Theory count though.  Or my daughter’s obsession with The Royal Baby.  Or my husband’s inexplicable fascination with Pirates of the Carribbean, over and over again.

I am coming to the realization that I am quite possibly the most extroverted, sociable, and exploratory person in my family.  Well, perhaps it is more accurate to claim I am the most neurotically driven one.  To say I am an extrovert is saying a lot, because it is with intentional effort that I have overcome shyness to meet new people and try new things.  I have tested, firmly and on multiple occasions, as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory test.  The “I” stands for Introversion and means I am someone who is happy alone and prefers to think through things myself without a lot of input on others.  Check.  The “N” stands for Intuitive and means I am someone who is creative and can spend a great deal of time imagining and dreaming in my mind.  Check.  The F stands for Feeling and means that I am eager to please and very influenced by the desire to connect with others.  Check.  The J stands for Judging and means I am someone who is measured, planful, disciplined.  Oh yeah, that’s me.  Check.

In retrospect, however, I enjoy meeting people and trying new things and have regularly challenged myself to do so all of my life.  At least as soon as I could break free from my over-protective and risk-averse parents.   It was a badge of honor to push myself to do something new.  In ninth grade, I auditioned for the school musical, alone.  A non-singer, I croaked “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Duncan, the most open and supportive teacher EVER.  I never did get a singing role in high school, but I danced and acted and worked backstage.  Being involved with theater is one of the happiest and most fun things I’ve done in my life.  And all because I felt in my gut that I had to audition on that fateful September afternoon in 9th grade.

As my son pauses this summer before entering 9th grade, I panic.  Will he be okay?  Have I done enough for him?  Shouldn’t he have more friends?  Shouldn’t he be doing more?  Shouldn’t he be busy busy busy?  Do the kids who go to sleep-away have a leg up on him?  Should I force him to do more?  Should I let him be?  Where is the balance?  The balance between pushing him and letting him be.  What will be the feeling in his gut that compels him to take a risk?

When we had a family meeting to discuss how much structure to enforce on our kids’ summer schedule for the rest of the summer, my son reiterated that he did not want to go to sleep-away camp and was terrified I would come home one day and gleefully announce that I had enrolled him.  Yep, that is something I would do.  My husband asked him to articulate why he didn’t want to go.

“Why would I want to leave my comfort zone?” he replied, stating what was obvious to him.

Why indeed.  He has a beautiful life.  Loved and safe.  I spent my life fighting against getting too comfortable because I wanted to Achieve Something Great.  I spent my life avoiding my childhood home because it was an unhappy hide-out for me, not a happy cocoon.  We have created a happy life for our children.  A happy life they are not rebelling very hard against.  At least not yet.  Perhaps that is a Great Achievement I should be proud of.

The desire for him to go to camp is my need, not his, based on my fear that he needs to escape the confines of shyness that I struggled against.  I will honor who he is.  Nurture.  Push gently.  Balance opportunities for exploration with time in his comfort zone.  And I will be happy that he is happy at home in his comfort zone.

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.

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