Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Your children tell you casually years later what it would have killed you with worry to know at the time. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

Boys. I think most of us started to realize sometime around sixth grade that boys are not like us in ways that go far beyond just the merely physical. If we are lucky we learn how to communicate with them, eventually marry one, and have wonderful little boy babies. Little boys are just amazing. They manage to embody some of the best things about being male. They are brave and adventurous, chivalrous and funny, they worship their mothers and have delightfully tender hearts. Then they get bigger and we realize that they are weird alien creatures who just don't think like we do...

This morning my friends Debbie and Leeann both have blog posts about their boys and the frustrations of raising aliens. Why do they lie to avoid trouble when they know they will get in trouble if they lie? I don't really have an answer for that question but in the spirit of commiseration I thought I would share a story about my favorite alien boy.

Zane is a fairly quiet young man. He doesn't share a lot with us so I have learned, over the years, to watch him for clues. In many ways I now do this without even thinking about it. I can just tell when something is going on with him. I call it momsense. Sometimes I think something is wrong and, despite having no evidence of a problem, I just can't shake the need to interrogate the boy. A few days ago he left in the morning with a friend. They were going to purchase a parking pass at the college where he is taking classes this year and then go back to the high school for afternoon classes. A few hours later my momsense started pinging.. some thing's not right.. so I checked attendance (I love our computerized school district) and could see that he was in class just like he should be. So I told myself to stop it and went on with my day.. but I just couldn't shake the feeling. When the kids came home from school I asked Zane how his day had been and he said it was fine.. he seemed ok and I had to run Delaney to swimming so I didn't ask any specific questions. Later that evening though the momsense alarm started again... Now I really should stress that the boy was doing nothing wrong. He was in his room doing homework and looking like a model student but I went in and started the interrogation anyway.

"How was your day?"
Vague answer.
"Was the line long for parking passes?"
Vague answer.
"Did you have any problems?"
Vague answer plus "I've got to do homework."
Hmm... this called for deeper investigation..
"Where does the parking sticker need to go?"
"I don't know."
"Oh? Let me see it."
"Uh.. I think I left it in Shaun's car."
"Did you get a receipt?"

Now I know something is up. I stand there not saying anything, waiting. Years and years of telling him that lying will get him nothing but more trouble has led to this point. We both know he is not telling the truth, is he going to add layers to his deception now?

"Ok.. the truth is..."

Well.. on the way to the college, in the rain, the driver lost control of the car and ran off the road. The police were involved but no citations were issued. No major damage was done although a poorly installed radiator shook loose and needed to be reattached. The tow truck driver was kind enough to drop them at the high school in time for afternoon classes. Everyone was ok.. but shaken up.. and my son had decided to hide it from me because he thought I would get upset. Would you believe him? Once they start lying I question everything but he had proof. Pictures of the car on his cell phone, supporting evidence provided by the little sister who saw him return to school very upset (I haven't yet visited the issue of the sister who decided not to tell me what she knew.. hmmm...), and the money for his parking pass still in his wallet.

Why he tries to hide things like this is a mystery to me. I don't lose my mind when mistakes happen, I don't go overboard and ground him for life, I don't even yell, but he rarely tells me when something is wrong. Is he trying to protect himself from scorn or is he trying to protect me from disappointment? This time he gave in and told the truth without it being dragged from him. Maybe because he was shaken by what happened. Or perhaps it's also that he is maturing. Maybe I can look forward to a future without momsense alarms. A future where he will choose to tell me things he knows I might not like because he wants to be honest with me rather than just tell me what I want to hear. A future where I trust him to be a rational adult and he trusts me with the same.

I hope so.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Serenity and Change

God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it's me. ~Author Unknown

Change. It seems we are always called upon to change and no one likes it. No one enjoys the realization that it is time to turn away from the things we know; the habits and routines that we don't have to think about because they are ingrained in who we are. Thursday meatloaf, Sunday morning church and bagels, vacations at the villa in Tuscany... whatever. Eventually everything comes to an end and we have no choice but to change. Find lentil loaf recipes, poetry and coffee, a campground with showers... whatever.

The last few years have brought almost constant change to my life. Some of it I have shared here but most I have kept to myself. Despite my goal to be open and vulnerable on my blog I have frequently failed. Choosing to write about generalities and rant about annoyances instead. Partly this is because my family sometimes reads my blog and I hide things from them, and partly because I have difficulty committing to things, even thoughts, and putting some things in writing makes them real.

Then I met Millie.

It is commonplace, even boring, for middle-aged women to wax poetic about the wonders of becoming a Grandmother. I'm not going to do that. I didn't have time to prepare for my status change. I learned that I was soon to be a grandmother just a few days before Millie was born. At the same time I learned that my son had refused to take any responsibility. Perhaps it seems strange that I would believe the girl on the other end of the phone and yet I did. She wasn't asking for anything. She was offering an opportunity for me to be grandmother to the child that my son was refusing to be a father to.

So many questions. The first, of course, is how do we really know... well that one was answered for me on the day Millie was born. When I met her, spent time with her and her mother, I found myself deeply committed. For better or worse she is my granddaughter and I care about her. I also care about her mother. An eighteen year old girl who I am just getting to know. Who has made hard choices and accepted commitments that many girls her age wouldn't. She's a good mother already and I feel fortunate that she decided to contact me.

This week my twelve year old asked me if it is okay to talk about Millie at school and my answer was "Of course it is! She's not a secret." but then Delaney asked what to say about Ian. Ah.. good question. Do we keep the baby a secret because we don't want to discuss the shame of her father? Isn't that just taking what is uncomfortable to me and giving it instead to an innocent baby?

I have sheltered my son from scorn for twenty one years. I have tried in so many ways to help him find the good inside of himself. I have shortchanged my husband, my other children, my extended family, and myself, in the attempt. He doesn't want my help. He doesn't see anything wrong with who he is. So I am done. He is who he has chosen to be. He is no longer communicating with me and I have decided I can accept that. He will live his life as he sees fit and I will live mine.

For six weeks I have been ruminating on different aspects of this.. the hiding I do, the lack of commitment, the shame about aspects of my life that are imperfect, and my tendency to put far more energy into sustaining the illusion that everything is good rather than accepting change and embracing the future. In the process I've made a few decisions that may seem inconsequential. Decisions about honesty, about writing, about this blog, about setting goals and working towards them. I'm still trying to figure out where this is all going but there is one change that I have already set in motion. I am working, really working, toward the goal of finishing the book I started so many years ago. After that I am going to work on the next book I have outlined, and I'm going to keep working. I'm no longer going to want to be a writer. I am a writer. I'm not going to worry what other people think when they ask what I've written. If I can tell people I raised a son who has become a deadbeat dad then what shame is there in telling them that I'm an unpublished writer too?

Babies are special. Little ambassadors of change they speed toward the future and we, fortunate to be captured by them, follow in their wake and find joy in our new lives.