As we drove home, wet from the rain, he told me he felt bad that I sat on the bank while he fished. He wondered why I didn’t join him. “I didn’t mind,” I said. “I was cold and damp and it was good to sit under the tree for a bit.” I couldn’t find the words to tell my son that watching him in this place, as his line danced over the water, was more than I could ever have needed in that moment.
The other day I wrote about wanting to bubble wrap my not-quite-grown-up kid. I am seriously considering duct taping a protective layer around him for real.
We have seen a parade of bad-to-horrible injuries over the last few months, reaching a crescendo this past week with a series of blown ACL’s, dislocated shoulders, badly broken legs and broken hands at the races Riley’s team attended. Then we learned that a young freeskier from our community was severely injured in a training run for Nationals and airlifted to Denver. My heart breaks for her and her family, and my stomach does flip-flops at the thought of something this horrible happening to our own “baby.”
The irony is that my son didn’t think to tell me about this. He had signed a card for her, he knew that she was undergoing extensive surgery and HE DIDN’T EVEN MENTION IT to me.
What do I make of this? What does it mean when such a horrific thing happens and it doesn’t bubble up from him? Is this a defense mechanism, developed from years of putting himself in scary situations, of watching friends suffer terrible injuries, some life-ending? From facing milder trauma himself and wondering not if but when something worse will happen? Or is this a typical 17-year-old-male-ism: Why would I tell my mom about something that happened to some girl I hardly knew? More than likely it’s the latter.
And so it goes. My mom-ness freaks out, his kid-ness says huge bummer. My mom-ness empathizes and imagines what-if’s, his kid-ness moves on.
Last night, for no particular reason, we watched some old videos from his growing up years. Lots of violin recitals, baseball games, Christmas programs and kindergarten graduation. I felt very much like Chevy Chase, up in the attic, tears streaming. Well, ok, tears didn’t stream because we were having too much fun laughing at his cousin, then age six, who was killing “stupid bears” in their fort, but you get the gist.
We parents don’t video the scary times, the trips to the ER, the struggles in school. We don’t record what goes on underneath the smiling facade or the times when we cross our fingers and toes and pray that he stays safe. Those memories and feelings are indelibly etched into the undocumented pages of our life stories. Their weight is hefty enough to counterbalance the fun memories flitting across the screen. We would rather our next generation not know their heft until he feels it soon enough with his own child.
So, I smile at him and my dear husband as we turn off the videos. I give him a hug, silently grateful for the warmth in his body. I tell him he is a gift. I quietly say a prayer for all parents. And then I bring out the bubble wrap …
He walked into the apartment, small but upright, and gave my friend a hug. He found a seat on the sofa and quickly accepted the offer of a glass of wine at 3:00 in the afternoon. He had lost his friend that week and she had lost her dad, and they were remembering him. At 88, he said, he didn’t have any more friends. They were all gone ahead of him.
His eyes reflected the lifetime of memories. She prompted with, “I always thought your name was Eddie, but on this paper it says Steve.” He replied with, “Well, here’s how that goes …” and the stories began from the Manhattan east-sider of Irish descent.
He started with a ridiculous tale about his current lady friend, a couple of blue pills and a plane ride. He moved on to some outrageous escapades involving football games and VIP clubs that he and her dad had enjoyed over the years. Then there were stories about her father in younger years with younger ladies. He had us on the edge of our seats right up until it was time for him to head home. I have no idea which parts were true, but I’m sure most were heavily embellished. He’s the sort that has been telling stories his whole life, engaging his listeners with twinkling eyes, a wink and a knowing nod.
My great uncle was a story teller, too. I was young when he died, and I wish I could remember more. “Those mules, Pete and Repeat, they were the laziest, most good for nothing …,” he’d start with a slow chuckle. “I’m not akiddin’ you ….” His was the gift of a story well told.
My husband told “Jack Stories” to our son at bedtime when he was small. Jack had crazy adventures with a bumble, monkeys and bears. The monkeys were always getting into trouble, usually somehow tied into something that had happened in our household, and the bears were just plain mean. At the time, I remember thinking we should record the nightly installments, but of course we didn’t. They are gone, and my son only vaguely remembers poor Jack.
Many of today’s stories are now told in pictures, whether on Snapchat or Instagram or Facebook. Quickly flashed on a screen with a few choice words, we get the message and move on to the next. But I fear that an art form is dying, much like, I don’t know, clogging or the juice harp. Storytelling takes patience, imagination and an audience willing to sit for a while. Very few have developed the skills to tell the little details and surprises that bring smiles, laughter and cries of “Oh, come on!”
Maybe this will become our summer evening tradition. Come join me the deck with a glass of something and let’s search for some storytelling magic.
Thus asked the man who rescued my son and his friend. Our truck, a beast of a thing — 2500HD if you know trucks — was solidly stuck in soft snow up to its belly. The Kid and his friend, en route from school last night, decided to take the side road and it didn’t end well. This morning, some heavy duty road clearing equipment made a path so that the stranded monster could be extricated. Nothing a couple hundred dollars and a mild headache could’t fix.
This adventure was quick on the heels of a warning from our county sheriff, who found the Kid and others doing doughnuts in a parking lot. The snow was perfect, the Kid tells us, and my car is awesome at drifting. Sigh. I remember being in a group of kids who did doughnuts in the school parking lot, Tears for Fears beating through the speakers. Different music, different kids, same games.
We knew these days of less-than-optimal choices would come. So far, at least as far as We The Parents know, they have been fairly harmless. The Kid has appeared appropriately shaken up by the outcomes and we hope that some sort of lesson is sinking in.
This parenting thing starts out with lack of sleep and a lot of effort aimed at trying to keep the little being alive. It then tumbles through all the wondrous ups and downs of growing up. Tantrums, play dates, victories and defeats. Papers, exams, unfair teachers and unfair kids. Injuries and illnesses, hugs and pats. Then the child reaches this age of in between, and it’s more difficult than all that other stuff. At times he is the adult he will become. Insightful, wise, bright. Then a raging teenager emerges, angry at the world, himself, you and the dog. Then he picks up a long-forgotten gizmo and plays like a boy, a grin spreading across his face. Then he goes 4-wheeling on a two track after two weeks of steady snowfall . . .
The Kid asked me last night, after the rescue, at what point a male brain stops being stupid. Didn’t quite have an answer for that one. Does it ever? We’ve all read the studies about the developing male brain, and that it takes much, much longer to firm up than we once thought. Alas, although testosterone filled teenaged boys are more prone to it, you don’t have to be male or young to make a stupid decision. Any of us can leave our brain behind at any point.
And so, we tell him to try to think first, that it only takes a second or one wrong move for things to go upside down. We know our words are mostly bouncing off, but hope a few sink in. Mostly, we remind him that we love him, and wonder how any of us made it this far with all the dumb things we’ve done.