There is little snow on Minister Hill this winter, and part of me has been mourning the absence of sledding and snowshoeing. The road down our hill is mostly mud now.
Navigating the deep oozing ruts adds another five minutes to every little venture. Today, though, even the sight of the nearly naked mountains rising up over the muck as I drove down the hill was enough to slow our trip to the ice rink even further. If the road had been better, I would have worked harder to pilot and gawk at the same time, but the mud nearly forced me to a stop several times. I snapped off a couple photos, figuring I would do a sketch while I watched the kids during school skate.
We returned a few hours later to a road even more scarred from a wintry mix and other vehicles. I was a few sketches richer. Thing1, my twelve-year-old, increasingly pensive as he approaches adolescence, was cheerful after racing around a rink for two hours. Thing2, my six-year-old whose normal state is chatter and dance, was nearly asleep from his exertions.
The mud up our mountain, earlier the guardian of my mindfulness of the mountains, was now just another obstacle between us and home. Thing1 began pointing out the least treacherous parts, and the car’s rumble seat imitation began to rouse my younger passenger in the back seat. As we passed the horse farm that lies just below our driveway, the ruts in the muck became deep slick channels, and my only option was to keep accelerating and let the edges of the chasms help me find the least resistance.
Ten feet later, as the swells in the silt became more navigable, I was glad I hadn’t had much for lunch. I glanced at Thing1 who was now grinning and looking very twelve. In the rear view mirror, I could see Thing2 continuing to bounce, even though the car had stopped.
“Can we go again?” he asked, knowing full well that we will be ‘going again’ tomorrow. But tomorrow morning, when we head out on our slimy roller coaster ride, I’ll remember that, while the coasting has it’s appeal, the climb can be pretty fun too.
It was a little after 6 when my shift ended and I turned off the computer and emerged from my office into the family room. Thing2 was hanging out with the Big Guy on the couch while Thing1 listened to music on his iPod. Without thinking, I launched into my litany of reminders.
“Is your homework done?” I asked both boys.
“Firewood in?” I asked Thing1, getting ready to remind him that if he wanted to earn money for this necessary chore he had to be completely responsible for the bin staying full.
“Did you take Katy out?”
“Yes, Mom,” He didn’t bother to look up from his iPod at the last query, knowing he had stopped me in my tracks. He had but not for the reason he thought.
As I stirred the leftover stew on the wood stove, it hit me that my once slightly serious but still impish boy is evolving into a responsible young man. And, while I want to keep the real world from denting that bliss that exists in all of us when we’re ignorant of the world, I am also realizing that I may need to find a new nick name for my first born.
It’s been sightly less than a year since I introduced my kids to this blog with their nicknames – Thing1 and Thing2. At the time, I was searching for stories close to home, and my 12 and 6 year old’s antics provided much of my fodder as well as their blog names (I didn’t want to use their real names on a blog). Thing2 is still very much an imp, but he has acquired a second nickname over the year – SuperDude – as the joyful theatrics that characterize his age became more colorful and creative. Little impishness is obvious in Thing1 anymore, however, as he gets closer to the edge of his childhood.
He’ll be thirteen in August, and he’s been towering over me since before his last birthday, but the changes in him over the last year are more than just physical. Thing1 went through his joyful, leaping stage when he was six, and, when he’s hanging out with his brother, he is reminded that the joy and leaping still lurk beneath the surface. But Thing1 has always been a more deliberative child, and he seems to be continuing on that path, accepting new responsibilities with little complaint. In short, he’s a good egg.
We’re seeing some of the expected displays of independence and boundary testing, but, remembering how I put my own parents through the ringer as a teenager, I was – and still am – ready for much worse. For now, though, we seem to be enjoying calm. It will probably storm at some point, but rather than fear what I can’t foretell, I’m realizing I need to begin marking this next phase in my oldest son’s life. I know that, like the last twelve years, it will fly by, and how and what I write about the person he is now will play a huge part in keeping that time in my memory. It makes his new nickname all the more important.
Thing1 is being punished. He’s being really punished for the first time in recent memory.
For most of the last twelve years we’ve been pretty lucky. For most of that time, he’s been good-natured and willing to follow the rules we set down. Infractions occur of course, but for the most part, they’ve been small enough that an empty, humorous threat to send him to military school puts a stop to restaurant antics or begging. When we do lay down the law, Thing1 usually plays the part of the gentle giant tolerating a well-meaning but misdirected mother and goes along. He seems to understand that – even when he thinks we’re totally nuts – we’re on his side.
That all changed today, as the fallout from a less-than-stellar report card caused the first serious fissure in his faith in our good intentions.
All kids have an Achilles heel as individual as their personalities, and Thing1’s is his love of all things computer. He has begun cracking open code on favorite games and spending hours Skyping with friends, gabbing about hardware and how to improve their favorite video game and which is the best OS for their purposes. It is a hobby and avocation that could be come a vocation. Now, however, it is bordering on addiction. So, fifteen minutes after the Big Guy and I read the report card, we had an intervention and pulled the plug.
Our normally tolerant twelve-year-old reacted like any addict who was being cut off would. He denied. Then he rationalized – the report card, that is. Then he protested. And finally, grudgingly he accepted the reality that his computer time would be restricted to school work.
Grudging acceptance has now taken the form of the silent treatment. He still obeys the easy rules without defiance. Gone, however, is the good-natured demeanor. Smiles are quickly extinguished when we make eye contact – even if we caused the smile. From his room, we can occasionally hear muted muttering that tells us we hit that heel with perfect aim.
At first we did pat ourselves on the back for being such clever parents. We felt guilty for about 10 seconds after we shutdown his favorite hobby, but, contrary to his belief, we’re not enjoying our victory. I know he needs the consequences, but I hate seeing him unhappy. I know there are things we can control in our own house and there things we can’t. This is one of the things we’re supposed to control. And while it hasn’t lead to happiness, it is giving me a bit of serenity in a way that I would never have thought possible when I was a teenager.
As the bearer of numerous crappy report cards, I was also the recipient of many groundings (pointless and redundant for Thing1 who lives in the middle of the woods) and privilege losses. I remember the profound sense of betrayal when I lost a favorite social outlet. Now, walking this mile in my parents’ moccasins, I’m finding yet another new understanding of their perspectives. There’s no forgiveness, of course – there’s nothing to forgive when someone’s looking out for your future. Instead, this is one of those moments when my mom and dad are getting a unexplained warm feeling in the back of their necks as their daughter writes that they were right about many things – even when it wasn’t fun to be right.
A few sleepless mornings ago, my gloom was closing in on me so tightly that if I had started lighting candles to keep from cursing my darkness, I could have burned down our house – no small achievement when you consider it’s mostly concrete.
We’d come home late from a sad trip the night before. I knew the upcoming work day would likely go long, to be capped off with an evening session of ‘Are You Smarter than a Seventh Grader’ with Thing1 (complete with commentary by Thing2). I was exhausted before I even got the kids up for school.
But the insomnia that was the door prize that came with my depression turned out to be a blessing (or a curse if you ask Thing1). As I tossed and turned counting the minutes of sleep I wasn’t getting I suddenly remembered that there was a pile of new, unplayed songs on my iPod. As I had mapped out our trip a few nights before, I’d clicked back-and-forth between iTunes and the map site, absentmindedly clicking the ‘Download’ button here and there.
The thing I love and hate about iTunes is that it’s so dang easy to engage in a little retail therapy without wondering where to hide the bags or if I want a song badly enough to be willing to dust it later. That’s how I ended up with 30 new songs in the time it took to print my maps and reserve a hotel (I think that’ll hold up in court).
So with an hour to myself before I needed to get the kids up, I hopped out of bed and pulled my purchases into a new playlist, hoping the songs would be safer than using fire to fight off my funk.
I find that when I’m in a bad mood, I tend to get a little nostalgic about my music choices, and my indulgence in retail therapy a few nights before was not a sign of a good mood. And, when I saw that bunch of Earth, Wind & Fire tunes for $2.99, I clicked on it. I love those songs because they evoke memories of my dad’s mix tapes painstakingly recorded on reel-to-reel, as well as images of the god-awful clothes of that era that are still preserved in photographs for eternity and future blackmail. But, as anyone who’s heard the songs knows, they’re also killer dance tunes as Thing1, my twelve-year-old (much to his horror) was about to discover shortly.
I got my playlist loaded and synced just in time to push the kids out the door. Most mornings Thing1 is the arbiter of musical taste in the car. He’s currently in a two-year Beatles and Stones phase, and when Boogie Wonderland came on, his hand automatically moved to the forward button. But I was ready for this and intercepted him.
“Leave it,”I ordered with the mock seriousness it takes to command his obedience.
“Okay, Mom,” he laughed, pretending to be in awe of my display of authority. My mood brightened as we jokingly argued about my musical choices. I turned up the volume, and, in the rearview mirror, I could see six-year-old Thing2 in his carseat bopping his head happily to the beat. It was infectious, and I started dancing a little too. I knew I might have lit one too many candles at that point.
Real fear crept into Thing1’s eyes, and I knew what was going through his mind. Would the song end before we hit the school parking lot? Would Mom hit the rewind button? Would Mom still be drive-seat-dancing when we arrived?
We got closer to town and the song switched, but to Thing1’s chagrin, there were no Beatles tunes in the on-deck circle. Thing2 and I continued to dance, though I restrained myself a bit as we got closer to town and the traffic got thicker.
“Mom.” Thing1 murmured as we turned onto the school street. “Mom.” He grew insistent as we got closer. A stalled line of cars came into view ahead of us as we approached the school, and my own dancing ceased. Thing1’s confirmed belief is that his authority over my behavior is in direct proportion to his proximity to middle school, but in reality, I just remember how much middle school sucked, and the threat of my dancing or singing in public is an empty one. Today, though, it would have been fun to keep that fire burning a little longer.
I drove him up to the door and wished him a good day. I told him I loved him, and as he climbed out of the car, shaking his head, he muttered what so many young people climbing out of Pintos and Pontiacs shaking under the weights of dancing middle-aged moms with too many choices on the eight track or cassette must have muttered before him: “I hate Disco.”
As my son stands in the doorway of our cluttered mudroom, his clothes soaked to the skin from an afternoon of tubing down the Battenkill and jumping in ponds, it occurs to me that we have become hillbillies.
To be sure, we have created the right atmosphere. There’s the perennial appearance of our thirty-year-old mercedes on blocks; the woodshed built for strength but impermanence for the benefit of the tax assessors; the garden that sometimes looks like a weed sanctuary and an ever-evolving parade of animals streaming through a mudroom littered with shoes and skates and garden implements.
And, in spite of our diminishing efforts to stay connected to trends and the city, life and location have conspired to turn us and our kids into hicks .We have learned the difference between hay and straw. Our kids picky about when their peas are picked. They have developed an affinity for dirt and allergies to soap (so they claim). They have never slept a day on a set of matching sheets or worn a color-coordinated outfit to school.
Living on a mountain far from many friends has taught us to find enjoyment close to home and our kids to find fun in the forest. Bills and a sparse employment landscape have taught us all the value of financial security but also that people without it still have value. We have learned to make do and to be happy doing without. Watching neighbors share food,money, and labor has taught us all to do for others and when to lean .
As Thing 1 and I debate whether he should leave the wet clothes (made filthy by a day of cheap, low-tech fun) outside or in the mudroom, I come to the conclusion that being a hillbilly is a pretty good thing.