Fathers and Sons

It’s interesting watching fathers and sons connect. It happens in the very beginning, but it seems as if, during those early teen years, a chasm sometimes appears. 

When Thing1 was eight or nine, he and the Big Guy bonded as father taught son and then sons the fine art of burping on command and then advanced topics like the alphabet.  Thing1 got into computers a few years later and entered his own little world — a world he’s making his own now. The Big Guy isn’t anti-computer, but, for him, they’re tools. He doesn’t love to get under the hoods.

While Thing1 was focused on computer camp and making mods on programs, the Big Guy, an engineer at heart, focused on his interests. He still supported Thing1 through school and healthcare troubles every step of the way, but they didn’t commune over common interests until Thing1 got interested in driving. 

Thing1, always interested in how things work, got into cars in a big way. He test drove as many cars as dealers would let him. He researched the workings under the hood. He even started a car blog for a very short time. He helped the Big Guy with a few jobs on his ancient Mercedes. Then, as he prepared to take custody of the keys to our 20 year old Volvo, he and the Big Guy had the ultimate bonding experience as they replaced the radiator together, the Big Guy teaching Thing1 new vocabulary every step of the way.

Thing1 finished his online classes last week and, with no way to work for a while, decided to work on the car that he bought last year. He turned on the hard rock station and took his car apart, demonstrating his command of the colorful vocabulary he’d learned in Home Mechanics 101 a few years earlier. And, every so often he’d call the Big Guy over for a bit of advice but also a bit of bonding over their common ground.

By the second afternoon, his car was mostly back together, and the two of them were sharing car repair war stories. Maybe the sun was in my eyes as I was watching them, and, definitely, the love was always there, but watching the ‘like’ grow was something special too.

A Secretly Real Identity

The paunchy gal here is a figurine brought to me years ago from Mexico by a friend. He must have seen a resemblance, but in all fairness, she’s actually a little less paunchy than I am. She’s taken up residence on our new deck. Before the deck, our weedy patio hid her exposed body, but I like that she’s now shamelessly sunning herself, embracing life and the world, not hiding in fear among the weeds, and definitely not worrying if society will disapprove of her brazenness.

Anyone who’s read this blog for more than a few months at a time, knows I have a penchant for redecorating. I change banners and colors. Sometimes it focuses more on painting and then on cartoons and back again to writing with pictures. So, you won’t be too surprised to read that I’m thinking about a new banner.

What may be surprising is that, unlike previous PickingMyBattles banners, this one may include my brazen friend and also may not have more than a tiny a tip of the hat to the bad parenting and even worse housekeeping that have driven so many posts over the years.

Thing1 was still nursing when he started toddling. He went through the crawling stage and the pulling-himself-up stages. Then he’d reach out for our hands and walks with us for guidance.

And then he didn’t reach out. He figured it out, and our help was no longer needed.

For that.

And then he didn’t need to nurse, and he took another step away.

And now he’s getting ready to take a giant step away. Thing2 is taking some of the same steps as he starts middle school and finds his own identity.

And I’m questioning mine.

‘Mom’ was, for a long time, the primary (and sometime only) way I identified myself, and I was happy about it. I didn’t like myself before Thing1 was born. Being his mom, meeting his needs changed my perceptions about boys, about the world and about myself.

But there was a person there before he was born. That person evolved, but she’s still there.

She’s still bi-polar as hell, still eating too much and the owner of a bleeding heart. She’s no longer afraid of hard work or committing to others. She’s a techie, an artist and a writer. And she’s demanding to be as much a part of my identity as the person my kids know just as ‘Mom’.

There is no such thing as ‘just a mom.’ That phrase strips motherhood of the depth of its responsibility and meaning as thoroughly as it reduces women to one of the other popular one-dimensional labels of angels or whores. I’m a bit of all of them and more.

There are still battles to be fought on behalf of Thing1 and Thing2. Thing1’s hair trigger colon still threatens his independence while Thing2’s creativity combined with his pack-rat sensibility could give new meaning to Vermont’s image as ‘the Green Mountain state’ with more of a green glow. I’m grateful to be the one fighting along side them. They’ve helped me see how much stories about family do matter as much as – maybe even more than – the stories about politicians and generals. I will always write those because they are the stories about people coming together, they are ultimately stories about hope.

But there are otherbattles, my battles, to fight as well – battles for creativity and a life of contribution and meaning beyond the laundry pile. They are just as important, and all of those battles can only be won by embracing every aspect of my identity – the loving mom, the bleeding-heart angel and even what the world may see as the bi-polar whore.

They are what combine to make what any seasoned veteran truly is — a fighter.

It’s All Good

Blog post 4 30 2013 its all goodsmall

“I almost decided to work in childcare,” she said, “but then I decided I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut if I saw someone, I mean a parent, doing something wrong.”  I watched her take a few more snips, and I was fairly confident that I was watching her doing something right with my hair.  I decided it was better not to argue with a woman with a pair of scissor in her hand, but inwardly, I smiled.

This young woman had meandered to the subject while talking about her child – about six from what I could gather, but it wasn’t just the scissors that kept my mouth shut when she expounded on her theories on chid rearing.  To be sure, I have plenty of my own, and I didn’t agree with all of hers.  But, with one child with moving into the teenage years and another child whose body needs to follow his spirit into the stratosphere on a regular basis, there’s only one belief I firmly hold.  It’s the idea that, with a few extreme exceptions, there’s no wrong way to parent, and that there is an infinite number of right ways to get a kid from cradle to college.  Ultimately, I think those right ways are just different strategies, and often, it’s the infinitely unique personalities of the kids that determine which ones we use.

My twelve-year-old, Thing1, was always our easy child – even before we had a Thing2.  He had a few weeks of constant screaming while we got the hang of breastfeeding, and I’ve had to carry him out of a restaurant here and there, but he’s always been a serious (read, quiet) kid.  Thing2 is not quite so quiet.  My social butterfly and a wriggling bundle of Prozac, his never-ending supply of energy creates different challenges.  But the tables are turning.

Thing1 is approaching adolescence.  His brain is achieving independence.  His discovery that his parents are mortal and even fallible results in increasingly frequent challenges of our judgement and authority.  I know this is a good and natural thing.  I know they’re supposed to start thinking for themselves, but navigating this latest phase of his life and our parenthood has made me realize that we’ll never be experts at this job.  We’ll still be in training when Thing2 hits this phase, posing a completely different battery of challenges, and that’s just fine with me.

I’ve always thought the best jobs aren’t necessarily the ones that pay the most but that offer the most challenges and that teach the most.  Watching our kids grow, testing us and forcing us to evolve, I know that, not only will we never be experts, but I doubt I’d ever be able to tell another mother, who loves her child as much as I love mine but in a different way, that her parenting style is wrong.

The reality is that the hairdresser and I each want the best future for our children.  We may take different paths to get them there, and we’ll certainly take away different memories and lessons from our journeys, but ultimately love will guide both of us.  And that’s all good.


Do you think there’s too much criticizing of mothers in our popular culture these days?

Honor Thy Family, Honor Thyself

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My mother’s parents, in their later years, moved from Hawaii, where they’d spent much of their retirement, to Ohio so that they could be closer to their children and grandchildren.  My grandmother suffered a series of debilitating strokes soon after they moved, and my parents, especially my mother, became instrumental in supporting both my grandparents, emotionally and, often, logistically.  

My mother made sure our family visited them regularly during the week.  She helped my grandfather adjust to his new roles of caretaker, housekeeper and cook – tasks my grandmother had primarily done during the fifty-plus years of their marriage.  When my grandmother passed away, my parents – geographically the closest of his children – continued the Sunday dinners and afternoon visits with my grandfather.  They took him on family vacations, provided (in the case of my father) second medical opinions, and did everything they could to ensure that he was independent but not alone in the last years of his life.

It was labor, but there was more love than obligation in it.  Although I know both my parents felt blessed to have those last years with my mother’s parents, it was not always easy.  Watching both parents rise to the occasion with love and grace, however, was a powerful lesson for me and my sister.  It is one I think about often as my parents have started their retirements.

So when, at the first meeting of the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Workshop, Diane Fiore revealed that she would be writing about her Saturday drives with her late father, I knew her blog would be good before I read a word.  It was.  

For most of the last year on her blog, Merganser’s Crossing, Diane has been telling the story of how what started as a daughter’s duty to help emotionally and logistically support a father suffering from increasingly intense dementia became a path to a close relationship and better understanding of her dad.  It has been humorous and heartbreaking, honest and enlightening.  Illustrated with sketches, photographs, and now, the loveliest watercolors, it is also evolving.

After learning that her mother had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Diane decided (with her mother’s support and permission) to chronicle the next phase of her journey on her blog.  Already the story has seen her and her husband move so as to support her mother’s needs better.  As she writes simply but compellingly of her new life, navigating the changes and relationships, the same love and grace I once saw in my parents comes shining through.  

We live in an often harsh world.  Too often culture and media not only reflect that harshness, they amplify it.  It makes stumbling on a story like Diane’s all the more valuable and inspiring.  It’s an oasis of kindness and hope, and it’s worth visiting again and again.