My father’s “number four daughter”

My name is supposed to be David. My parents. at least my Dad, having already had three daughters planned on having a boy. I’m sure it was a bit of a disappointment when I was born without a Y chromosome but if it was, no one ever said so. Quite the contrary, at least as far as my mother was concerned, this made things much easier. She knew a lot about raising little girls and since none of my sisters had yet hit 13, “the most challenging year” for a girl and for her parents, according to my mother, she probably figured it was smooth sailing. Ha! As for my two oldest sisters, they were happy that they had a living doll to dress and to cart around. They did too, they took me everywhere. This also meant, coming from a family of readers, that they now had an “Amy”, for their March sisters, and a “baby Grace” for the Ingalls girls. That was fine for Meg, Jo and Beth but I never liked being snotty Amy and Grace? She was so insignificant that she was barely mentioned except to say that she caused everyone a lot of grief when she wandered away and got lost on the prairie. If anything, I would have rather been plucky Jo or tomboy Laura, and this is why my Dad and I got along so well.

My sisters could tell you a different story about their father. By the age of 24, my Dad, within a years time, became the father of “Irish twins” and the guardian of two teen boys, my mother’s brothers, who, when their father died suddenly, were left orphans. Partially because of these circumstances, my sisters were raised by a very different father. When I came along, he was in his 30’s, the boys were away at college and having had 10 years of fatherhood under his belt, he was more patient and ready to play with me. Also, since a son was not likely to happen, he treated me like one, and I loved it.

“This is my number four daughter”, he would introduce me to other adults, hands on my shoulders. I think he was proud of having four girls, and that I sometimes acted like a boy. My first memories are of watching football with him. The Dallas Cowboys, his favorite, back in the glory days of the 70’s when Tom Landry was today’s Bill Belichick and Roger Staubach, today’s Tom Brady. “Touchdown!” he would cry, leaping from his chair, causing me to look up from pushing the little truck he made me, the one with the little wooden wheels and popsicle sticks that made the sides of the bed, perfectly fashioned. He patiently explained the game,  the downs, and safety’s, field goals and extra points during commercials for Pabst blue ribbon beer and cigarettes ads, imploring us to “come to where the flavor is” with the ruggedly handsome cowboy. We also watched boxing, which I loved, and sometimes the Indy 500, which I didn’t, because I thought then, and still think, that it’s incredibly boring and the only thing worth watching is when someone crashes and then you feel guilty for getting excited. We played a lot of catch and watched a little baseball and he called me “Kiddo” and “Sport.” He gave me my own pocketknife when I was 5 and we spent time shooting. I liked to hang out with him in his shop in the basement while he worked. He had enormous machines down there, metal and woodlathes, jig-saws and bandsaws. Never one to worry, he allowed me to “dust” the jagged teeth with a clean paintbrush and sweep the metal curlicues on the floor. We didn’t say much, we just were together. Sometimes, I would aloud read to him from whatever book I was reading at the time while he worked. He was subjected to Ramona and Beezus, The Little House on the Prairie series, Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon. He never complained. Sometimes, I would stop in the middle of reading with questions that had bothered me all day, “which is worse, a heart attack or a stroke? Is a tornado worse than a hurricane? Who is Dow Jones?” He always, always knew the answer. When I went to summer camp, he wrote to me twice in one week, much to the chagrin of my oldest sister who said that in 4 years at Wellesley, he never wrote. He attended every farm league baseball game I played in (my town was too small to have a softball team, so the girls played baseball) and agreed with me when I quit Little league because the coach insisted I throw with my right since I batted right, even though I had fielded like a leftie for years. As I got older, he attended every field hockey game and track meet, both winter and spring, each time bringing me a Skor bar because I was superstitious like that then. He sent flowers to the school when I came in first in regionals and again when I placed in states when I was a freshman, with a card that read, “the ‘kick’ is back” . He taught me to drive a stick shift and made me practice on hills when he learned I was going miles out of the way in my 1979 Honda Accord to drop my boyfriend off so that I wouldn’t have to stop at a red light on a hill.

But then it changed. I had a licence, my parents divorced, and my mom and I, my sisters having long since married and moved away, moved to an apartment in town 15 miles from where my father lived. I quit all sports in favor of cigarettes and parties (it turned out that my mother was 75% right about the 13 thing, my worst year was when I was 16), I didn’t have time for my dad, although he had always had time for me. I didnt make the effort that he had. We talked once in a while and I know he missed going to my events, but he never said so. The years passed and now he is a “snow bird”. He and his wife travel south each winter to avoid the ferociousness of the Maine winter. We see each other occasionally and talk on the phone sometimes, as today,  when I called to wish him a Happy birthday. “hellooo,” he answered heartily. ” Happy Birthday! How does it feel to be 79?” I asked. “Great! Who is this?” “It’s your number four daughter” I answered. He knew me then and we chatted about future plans for celebrating when he returns to Maine in May. I know just what we will do. We will have pizza and cake. We will talk about guns and sports and memories on the deck as we swat away mosquitos and the years. We will take the jeep to the sandpit and shoot as we have always done, his number four and my number one. Happy birthday Dad.

Updated Version: ( I finally had my) Scrambled eggs and the “Mom Experience”

 

See, what I mean (see below if you haven’t already read this)?

 

I really can’t describe the feeling of disappointment I felt this morning, when I pulled into my mother’s driveway and saw that her car was gone. I sat there for a minute, car idling until I remembered what time it was. It was only 8:30 am and I realized that my  76-year-old mother was at yoga, or bobbing around in the pool with her gang of Barbara’s, she being one of the three of them. There are other ladies who workout in the pool, often at the same time as she, Gloria’s and Ruth’s. Pleasant 60 and 70-somethings who bounce around to the strains of Fergie and Lady Gaga, while discussing last nights elimination on Dancing with the Stars and the happenings around town and in their families. My mother has become quite dedicated to her workouts, going faithfully three to four times a week. This, coming from a woman who once told a physical therapist that she wasn’t opposed to exercise “as long as it doesn’t make me sweat.”

I knew she wouldn’t be home for a while, so, I turned the car around and left, feeling quite sorry for myself. I had driven to her house to await the results of a chest x-ray, ordered by my PCP after she listened to my raspy lungs. By the way, if someone says, “Ohhh, that’s not good” when they have a stethoscope in their ears, and on your chest, it’s not usually a good thing. Having been sick with the flu for the better part of the week, I have not had much of an appetite, but I had a sudden hankering for my mothers scrambled eggs. Well, not just the eggs. I was looking for the whole “Mom experience,” I might be a mom and a grandmother myself, but I don’t think anyone is ever too old to be mothered. I had already seen in my mind’s eye that she would look up happily as I came in the door, one of the few houses that I don’t have to knock. She would smile and say “why, Sue! What are you doing here so early?” then not waiting for me to reply, she would continue,  “I was just making some scrambled eggs and I’ve made too much, why don’t you sit here and eat with me? Would you like coffee? How about some orange juice?” The whole time she is talking, she would be pouring coffee, popping bread in the toaster and serving up a generous portion of scrambled eggs with the efficiency of a waitress, which she actually was, before she went to nursing school. They would be light and fluffy with cheese and bacon and chives in them. She would butter the toast (seriously!) and slice it like a triangle because it tastes better that way. A little dish of fruit would appear, strawberries and grapes and bananas, “just cut up this morning.” Blowing on the eggs, I would tell her why I was out and about so early, while she sat across from me, eggless, with a second cup of coffee instead. Listening while I talked, she would notice that my coffee was gone, and she would replace it while we moved on to other matters, things that made me angry, small details about my children and granddaughter, the happenings on Survivor last night and what my sisters were up to. The whole thing would take less than an hour, at some point I would have received the results of my x-ray by phone and would leave to pick up my prescription. I would have gone home with a full belly and a big head, compliments having been tossed at me like rice at a wedding. This was the “Mom experience” I was hoping for. Who but your mother, wants to hear a story with you as the hero? Who else actually loves to hear you brag? Who else could be so undoubtedly in your corner when you are wronged and yet still caution you to not lose your temper and be too brash? Moms feed you physically, emotionally and spiritually. You strut out of their house, fluffed and puffed, as confident as a two-year old that you are loved.

Sadly, with out my “mom experience” to feed me, I turned the car to McDonald’s for hot cakes, a disappointing second but the only thing that seemed about as comforting as her scrambled eggs. I felt sorry for myself for only a minute, as I remembered how many of my friends, and my husband, who have lost their mothers, my mother herself lost hers when she was 13. I am grateful for our texts and visits, our lunches out and for an occasional breakfast at her house. I am thankful for her and for the example she has set for my sisters and me, and also, for her scrambled eggs.

How it feels to be three

I actually wrote this piece last year, on a Facebook post. It was one of the reasons I decided to start a blog. There is so much to say when you have a preschooler in your life, Facebook cannot possibly contain all the material that a child provides.

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If you could remember back to when you were three, you might remember how terrible it would be to not be able to find a Cootie body to match your beautiful red sweater. You might remember raging against the impracticability of Milton Bradley’s color choices of either pink or orange when clearly a simple red would be a much more popular choice. You might remember being so angry with the unfairness of Cootie and life that you were tempted to throw the offensive pink body at your beloved Noni, particularly because she is taking a picture of you at that moment. You might remember instead, being so vexed that you scattered Cootie body parts in utter frustration. You certainly would recall how your Mama made you clean them all up; every last Cootie head and foot and antennae. You would surely have turned your anger on your mother at this point and might have even cried out, “I’ll never eat Noonies again! Never! Ever!” , when asked about having your favorite dinner of buttered noodles. But, if you know anything about being three, you would also know that as quickly as the winds of fury descend upon a household with a three-year old, they also depart, leaving in its wake a sweet, smart little girl and a grateful, exhausted family.

Please stop asking your kids if it’s OK (it’s not always OK and it’s not supposed to be)

I know, that title is rude and presumptuous and kind of know-it-allish. After all, I’m not a Child psychologist (although I did take psych 101 and developmental psych in nursing school soooo, there’s that…), a teacher or an expert of any kind. What I am, is a mom of adult children and since the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”, I  have a pretty clear vision on the subject. At least I do now, I certainly didn’t then and God forbid I ever find myself in the position to have to raise another one, I would surely revert back to legally blind status.

It’s just that when you are in the throes of child rearing, the tantrums, the homework, the last-minute projects they “forgot” to tell you about, the sleepless nights and harried mornings, it’s all you can do to keep your head above water. Any unexpected event, a feverish child for instance, Now what? You can’t stay home from work today. Daycare provider is calling it quits, effective in two weeks? NOOOO! Suddenly, you are no longer treading water, you are starting to go under, grabbing on to anyone you can, a spouse, your mom, a friend to help.

And so, when the workweek is over and the worries are few, at least for a couple of days, it feels good to take the kids to the movies or the zoo or the playground, They are having fun, you are doing what you feel parents should do and all is well. This where I see you. I am here, at the playground  too, with my granddaughter while her mother is at work. You look tired, overburdened. You are carrying a coffee, a phone, an oversize designer bag on your arm and your child’s jacket that he has tossed off because he thinks it has hindered his ability to run fast. You catch him as he runs by and this is what I hear you say, “Hunter, let’s put your coat on OK?” Hunter shrugs free and off he goes like a blue blur, not concerned at all that it is 50 degrees out and his little arms are bare. But you are. You chase after him with the jacket, he runs away, faster than ever without his coat.

Now,  that’s all I can hear, parents everywhere, asking for it to be OK. “Brayden, we can only stay for a few minutes, OK?” Brayden gives no response and takes off as fast as Hunter, who still does not have his coat on. “Ainsley, I said come here right now, OK? It’s time to go!” one mother call ineffectually for her daughter while Ainsley is busy chasing both boys, having no intentions of leaving right now. Another woman leans over to give her daughter a kiss, “have fun, I love you, okaaaay?” I can see and hear all this because my attention does not have to be on my granddaughter, Bean at all times, since her grandfather is with her. She is attempting to cross the monkey bars, hand over hand, while she swings her feet, clad in bright pink “puddle boots” to propel her, Papa is standing below her with a smile on his face, ever ready to catch her if she slips.

I know that it is different for grandparents, we have our little blessing for such a short time that we often let her set the schedule. We play until she is actually ready to do something else and says so,  or until it is time to bring her home to her Mama, sweaty, dirty and tired. Hardly anything is off-limits and we rarely have to set them. That is why being a grandparent is so great, all of the fun, none of the culpability.

But you mom, wear a heavy mantle of responsibility,  I can see it and I remember what it felt like. Let me make your job a little easier for you. Don’t worry about pleasing the kids all the time. They please themselves., it is their job, not yours. Don’t try to make sure every direction you give them is well received, it wont be. Don’t bargain, wheedle and plead and end every request or declaration of love with “OK”. Give them a clear directive, count to five if you have to, and if they still wont listen to you, or do what you ask, go get your Brayden or your Ainsley and take them home. They will kick and scream. yes. The other moms will look at you, true, but they wont be thinking what you think they are thinking. And the grandparents? They will silently cheer you on for your bravery and for your foresight. I will even carry your coffee and designer bag so that you can hold on for dear life to your backbending, squealing Brayden.  It will suck, and you will wonder why every “fun” time seems to end in tears and why do you even bother. But, you will do this because, 10 years and a few sleeps from now, Brayden will be a lanky teen, with long hair and a short attention span. He will duck past you as you are making dinner and say, “Bye mom, Hunter and I are hanging out, he just got his licence and his dad said he can use the car.”  You will turn to him and say ” Be home by 11 and text me if you are going to be late and if anyone is drinking, you, or Hunter or anyone else, call me and I will come and get you, no questions asked. ” He will have one foot out the door, his face turned to the road while you speak, but he will look you in the eye for one moment and say “OK.” and his OK, will carry all the weight that it should.

 

Scrambled eggs and the “Mom Experience”

I really can’t describe the feeling of disappointment I felt this morning, when I pulled into my mother’s driveway and saw that her car was gone. I sat there for a minute, car idling until I remembered what time it was. It was only 8:30 am and I realized that my  76-year-old mother was at yoga, or bobbing around in the pool with her gang of Barbara’s, she being one of the three of them. There are other ladies who workout in the pool, often at the same time as she, Gloria’s and Ruth’s. Pleasant 60 and 70-somethings who bounce around to the strains of Fergie and Lady Gaga, while discussing last nights elimination on Dancing with the Stars and the happenings around town and in their families. My mother has become quite dedicated to her workouts, going faithfully three to four times a week. This coming from a woman who once told a physical therapist that she wasn’t opposed to exercise “as long as it doesn’t make me sweat.”

I knew she wouldn’t be home for a while, so, I turned the car around and left, feeling quite sorry for myself. I had driven to her house to await the results of a chest x-ray, ordered by my PCP after she listened to my raspy lungs. By the way, if someone says, “Ohhh, that’s not good” when they have a stethoscope in their ears, and on your chest, it’s not usually a good thing. Having been sick with the flu for the better part of the week, I have not had much of an appetite, but I had a sudden hankering for my mothers scrambled eggs. Well, not just the eggs. I was looking for the whole “Mom experience,” I might be a mom and a grandmother myself, but I don’t think anyone is ever too old to be mothered. I had already seen in my mind’s eye that she would look up happily as I came in the door, one of the few houses that I don’t have to knock. She would smile and say “why, Sue! What are you doing here so early?” then not waiting for me to reply, she would continue,  “I was just making some scrambled eggs and I’ve made too much, why don’t you sit here and eat with me? Would you like coffee? How about some orange juice?” The whole time she is talking, she would be pouring coffee, popping bread in the toaster and serving up a generous portion of scrambled eggs with the efficiency of a waitress, which she actually was, before she went to nursing school. They would be light and fluffy with cheese and bacon and chives in them. She would butter the toast (seriously!) and slice it like a triangle because it tastes better that way. A little dish of fruit would appear, strawberries and grapes and bananas, “just cut up this morning.” Blowing on the eggs, I would tell her why I was out and about so early, while she sat across from me, eggless, with a second cup of coffee instead. Listening while I talked, she would notice that my coffee was gone, and she would replace it while we moved on to other matters, things that made me angry, small details about my children and granddaughter, the happenings on Survivor last night and what my sisters were up to. The whole thing would take less than an hour, at some point I would have received the results of my x-ray by phone and would leave to pick up my prescription. I would have gone home with a full belly and a big head, compliments having been tossed at me like rice at a wedding. This was the “Mom experience” I was hoping for. Who but your mother, wants to hear a story with you as the hero? Who else actually loves to hear you brag? Who else could be so undoubtedly in your corner when you are wronged and yet still caution you to not lose your temper and be too brash? Moms feed you physically, emotionally and spiritually. You strut out of their house, fluffed and puffed, as confident as a two-year old that you are loved.

Sadly, with out my “mom experience” to feed me, I turned the car to McDonald’s for hot cakes, a disappointing second but the only thing that seemed about as comforting as her scrambled eggs. I felt sorry for myself for only a minute, as I remembered how many of my friends, and my husband, who have lost their mothers, my mother herself lost hers when she was 13. I am grateful for our texts and visits, our lunches out and for an occasional breakfast at her house. I am thankful for her and for the example she has set for my sisters and me, and also, for her scrambled eggs.

Bean and Me

“Hi Noni!” she says, as she creeps into our dark room, dragging her blanket, and Ted, her huge, floppy teddy bear. “Hi Bean” I mumble as she climbs into bed with me. Ahhh, I think, time blurring the edges of the reality of “sleeping” with a four-year old. 15 minutes pass, with tiny dagger like knees in my back, coughing in my ear, sneezing in my face and the use of my hair as a convenient tissue. The cat, emboldened by the predawn stirrings and wanting her morning treat, enters the room meowing, then goes in for the kill, circling our heads, purring and kneading as she goes. “Good morning, Bean”, I finally say, an admission of defeat. I hear her smile in the dark “Good morning Noni!” she chortles, happy as only a child can be before sunrise. We push the covers off and feel our way through the darkness together, Bean, the cat and me.

The egg

Today is day number four that I have woken up sick. I have the flu with constant body aches, fever, cough and a curiously stuffy but still running nose. At this point, I am as drained mentally as I am physically. Case in point, to even figure out the days I have been sick took about 3 minutes, during which time, I caught myself staring into space, chewing my fingernails and sneaking peeks at the Today show until I gave myself a mental slap in the face. Suffice it to say, I am not feeling very sharp and this is probably not the best time to put my thoughts out there. It may very well be the blogging  equivalent of a drunken selfie, posted on social media in one brash move, “f*$# it” being the last thought before sending it off. As mentally dull as I have been recently, most of my days having been spent prostrate on the couch, unable even to read, I have had a hard time mustering the wherewithal to blog. Some of the problem is lack of energy, mental and physical, but mostly it is from lack of inspiration which for me, comes with exercise or driving, most often with music blaring. But, once in a while, something touches me out of the blue and I must write it down so that I can process it, or else it will be shuffled back into the dark recesses of my mind. And so it was last night, with “the egg,”

One day, about 20 years ago, my husband, jokingly pretended to crack an “egg” on our than five-year old daughters noggin. He knocked gently using his knuckles three times, then with his fingers splayed out, simulated what it might feel like if yolk was dripping down her head. He probably thought that she would jump up and scream, first because she thought it was real and then with the indignation of having been fooled. Instead she stood there while the finger yolks spread down over her hair. “Do it again!” she demanded. He did, several times until, with a rush of generosity, she said “do it to Mama!” He did, and at our requests and sometimes spontaneously, he’s been doing the egg ever since.

Last night, feverish and restless and tired of sitting upright, I folded over and put my head on the middle couch cushion for a minute, craving my mothers touch. I wished for a cool hand on my forehead and to hear her to say, “well, that’s it, you aren’t going to school tomorrow.” Instead, I got the egg. Cool and familiar, comfortable and soothing, a small gesture, that says, “I’m here.” It’s the little things that hold us together sometimes, long-standing jokes and stories retold, preferences tolerated and dislikes endured. Confidences shared and someone who always has your back. Or, your head with their hand on it, letting you know they love you.

Sick

Today is Easter. A day of hope and joy, family and fun. Christians will be reminded of the ultimate sacrifice, a life surrendered and reborn. Children will be hyped up on sugar and the novelty of the day, and families will come together for a lunch or dinner.  Children in their Easter outfits with chocolate stains already on the sleeve, adults, laughing, chatting, some drinking and bickering, most happy to get together, and a few even happier when it is time to head home.

But not us. This year, with four fifths of my immediate family under the weather and the only healthy one having been diagnosed less than a week ago with strep throat, we are not in a celebratory mood. My 19-year-old son slept for 13 hours straight the night before last, and trudging from his bedroom at 1 pm declared,  “I am dying inside” before collapsing on the couch and curling up into a ball. The last time this kid was this sick, he was scheduled to leave for Europe on a school trip. With a temp of 102 the day before they were to depart, I wondered if he should go, until I remembered that I could have finished paying my car off with the amount that we paid for this first -world kid experience, so I sent him off with Tamiflu, tissues, Ibuprofen and prayers. He was fine.

With so many of us sick at once, it hit me how differently we handle it. Bean, at four, for example refuses to admit defeat. She will not talk about her symptoms and will not let anyone else discuss it. “I don’t want to talk about it!” she almost shouts when queried about her belly or her throat. She does the same thing when she has skinned a knee. She covers it with her hand and will not look at, or let anyone else inspect it. She prefers to carry on as if nothing has happened. “Dress up and show up” describes her little soldier like thinking. Her mother just sent me a picture of her that explains her well.  She is dressed in her Easter dress, a purple swirly affair, with tights and “fancy shoes” which are white patent leather with a little heel. She loves them. The only problem is, she has been vomiting and running to the bathroom all morning. This is not the most practical outfit, but it makes her feel a little better. She is of the Ma Ingalls, “lest said, sooner mended” mentality. So far, this mind-set has served her well.

Her mother, my oldest, is like this as well. An active, courageous child with a love of horses, she has suffered many injuries in her quarter century on the planet. Sports and riding have left her with multiple surgeries, broken bones and several avulsions under her belt. Undaunted, she continues her course without complaint or pause. Last week, she worked two twelve-hour shifts with a fever and sore throat, waited until her day off to be diagnosed with strep throat, and not missing a beat or a day of work, never mentioned it again. She does not expect special treatment or sympathy when she is ill or wounded and has little time or patience with histrionics, which is a great lead in for our next patient.

Our patriarch, Tiny, is tough as nails, most of the time. This man, has put six stitches in his own hand (easy, peasy…boil thread and needle, drink lots of alcohol, sew away), and allowed a friend to attempt to pull an infected tooth (not so easy, required more alcohol, duct tape and pliers and was ultimately not successful due to the fact that the tooth broke). Have you ever heard of Yankee ingenuity? Mainers are a tough, and resourceful bunch and if you don’t have health insurance, because you are an adult with a family, attending college, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.  Put that image aside for a moment and imagine a different person entirely. This person moans, loudly and frequently when he has a fever, he rolls around in bed and sends SOS texts, such as, and I quote, “I’m burning up!! Could you bring up the thermometer and Gatorade?” In all my years of taking temperatures (that would be 29, at least professionally), I have never seen someone relish a fever like he does. I get it. It’s the outward expression of your inward misery. It is the proof to yourself and to your wife, that you are indeed dying a slow, hot death. He is the antithesis, at least when he is sick, of the first two.

My son and I, however, are a lot alike in many ways. We take the middle and sometimes, but certainly not always, the high road on many things. In sickness, we do not deviate from this. We accept our fate, and deal with it. We try not to complain but don’t deny that we are suffering when asked. We do not whimper in our beds, and we don’t carry on as if everything is fine either. Last night, and quite possibly the rest of today, will find my son and me each on a couch, wrapped up like burritos in blankets, binging without guilt on Shameless while tossing the box of tissues or a phone charger back and forth to whichever one needs the item the most.

So, that’s it, dear reader. These are the characters in my family,  all in various stages of illness, from prodromal to convalescence. Thank you for indulging me and helping me to take my mind off my body aches. While you are enjoying your spiral ham and your chocolate bunny with your family, my family will be moaning, denying and indulging in Netflix . To each his own.

 

A Son is a Son

“A son is a son until he takes a wife, a daughter is a daughter all of her life.”  As a mother of both a son and a daughter, I have both hated and loved this sentiment. I know this is not entirely true, my son will always be my son but I do understand. There is a difference. A daughter is an instant ally, a lifelong confidante. The relationship, while rocky at times, has an undercurrent of understanding. A knowledge that you are grooming your future best friend, a connection as strong and beautiful as a diamond, unbreakable by outsiders. A son? From the time he is born we are preparing him to leave us, to develop a relationship with a future wife as sweet and secure as his relationship with his mom has always been. This is as it should be.  So much is written about the relationship between father and daughter. She is Daddy’s little girl, his princess. It is a powerful and important relationship. But, no less important or as precious, is the bond between mother and son.

A son is wonder to his mother. A perfect and beautiful tiny man. A mother of a newborn pours all her love and attention into him, developing a solid foundation for his future. He stares into her eyes and looks for her whenever she isn’t holding him.  As a toddler, his mother claps when he walks, rejoices when he poops on the toilet, picks him up when he falls and cuddles him when he is sick. She is the first person he looks for when he skins his knee and he hides his head on her shoulder when he is afraid. As a preschooler, she prepares him for school, takes him to the park, and tries to swallow the fear that he is growing so fast as he climbs too high and rides his bike too fast. But, he runs to her at random times of the day, crashing into her knees and throwing his arms around her neck when she picks him up. He tells her that he wants to marry her when he gets big and she smiles while tears spring to her eyes.  When he goes to school, she misses him and wonders if he misses her. but hopes that he doesn’t, because she doesn’t want him to feel sad. She encourages him to invite his friends over and pretends to be annoyed when they eat all the food and break a lamp, wrestling in the living room. He lets her hug and kiss him still, but only at night and only if his friends aren’t sleeping over. By the time he is a teenager, his thoughts have turned to his friends, sports, cars and girls. His mother is there, in the periphery, hovering about, offering to make him scrambled eggs or asking if he put his uniform in the wash. She is most often noticed when she is not there, as she is testing out her new independence as he tests his. “where’s mom?” he will say to his father, when the friends are gone, or he will text,  “where are you? I’m hungry!”. She will hurry home or offer a myriad of choices over the phone, happy to be needed. She still insists on giving him a kiss when he leaves for work or school and he acquiesces, bending his head so that she can kiss the top of it. He goes to college, a baby boy in a man costume. She worries about him constantly. Is he eating enough, sleeping enough? She keeps up with him via texts and snapchat and creeps on his girlfriend on Facebook. He comes home on weekends, dumping his laundry on the floor, saying he’s hungry,  while a swirl of energy and nostalgia perfumes the air, disappearing as soon as he drives away. He marries, and his mom is careful and supportive of his wife. She defers to the wife on matters such as child rearing and her sons favorite foods because she would never ask her son to choose between them, partly because she knows she will lose and partly because she would never want her son to be feel the pain of making that choice. It is hard, and sometimes sad, but it is as it should be.

If this scenario seems depressing to young moms out there, know that it’s not. Just as you are there at every stage and for every pain, both mental and physical, you will always be there, and he will always look for you. On this, the morning after Good Friday, it makes me wonder how Jesus’s mother could stand to be there, when her son took on the sins of the world. She never left his side, she suffered as he did, watching her baby boy die on a cross. She had wiped his tears when he was a little boy and now could not, but she gave the only solace to him that she could, she was there. She never left him alone in his grief and his pain, just as we, as mothers would never leave our boys to suffer alone. You are no less important to your son  than you were when he was 5, just in a different way. You have done your job well, Mom. As he raises a family of his own, things have come full circle. It is as it should be.

Bean

My granddaughter, Bean, is an extrovert. I know this because she was one of those babies who, as soon as she could speak, would say “hi” to strangers at the grocery store. By the time she was two, she was demanding to know, “Why you wearing that hat?” and “where is you list?”  and “what’s you name?”  Now that she is four, she feels the need to introduce me to everyone before they can make the incorrect assumption that I am her mom. “Hi, I’m Chloe, I’m four. I’m big. This is my Noni. She’s not my Mama”,  her standard opening statement, jerking her little thumb at me. The chosen individual, sometimes a sweet-faced elderly lady, who smiles and nods, sometimes a surly teenage boy, who bobs a head and answers a gruff “cool,” before returning his eyes to his phone, is then subjected to a monologue regarding the day’s activities, her animals, her best friends name and the location of her house, while the listener bends forward, eyes flickering to me in surprise when she uses words like, hydration, glamorous and disgusting. Strangely, even the teenage boys do listen and most people respond when she calls out to them as they pass, “I like your dress” or “I have a cat!” The ones who don’t, who hurry by, Bean excuses with a shrug and,  “she didn’t hear me”, no self-esteem issues at all. On a recent family trip to Disney, Bean appeared to have as much fun meeting and greeting strangers (with a reluctant adult by her side), at the airport as she did at the parks.  She collected names like other people collect stamps. Doug, a pilot from “Textas,” Cheryl, from Alabama on the way to visit her grandchildren, Sarah, a preschool teacher on her way home to NJ and Bud and his wife, congenial and friendly after a leisurely afternoon spent in the airport bar. She chatted with Doug about “plane flying,” sang “Let it Go” with Sarah, and counted to ten in German with Bud, who fondly recounted his old Army days stationed outside of Munich. She saw several of them as we boarded the plane and greeted them like old friends as she passed their seats, “Hi Cheryl, I’m going to Disney now! Awww, You’re all alone; this, to an attractive middle-aged woman, to which the woman made a sad face and said with a French accent , “I know…so sad for me.” Bud! Hey, Bud! Eins,  zwei…” Her openness and ability to connect with strangers is a gift, something to be admired and encouraged but this puts those of us who love her on edge of course, as we all know about “stranger danger” and want her to be aware too. We are with her always but there will come a time when we are not, partially why her Papa is intent on teaching her MMA, but that is a story for another time.

Today, we are first in line at pre-school and she greets all her classmates as they arrive, “Hi Liam. Hi Keira, I’m wearing short sleeves! Alistair, Hi!!!! I’m wearing a dress!” she twirls so that the boy can get the full, splendorous effect of the garment. Not impressed, he sits on the floor, pulls off his sneaker and dumps a small pebble on the floor. Bean, undaunted, moves on to greet the others. Some answer, some smile, one ducks his head, to which Bean stage whispers to me, “HE’S SHY!” There are a lot of shy ones, more shy than not. My children were also shy. They were the ones who turned their heads or hid behind me when strangers asked them questions. They did not strike up conversations with strangers and certainly did not skip up to their teachers with a hearty, “Hi, Mrs. S!!” They did not raise their hands, even when they knew the answer. Bean raises her hand to be called on at school, at church and any time a volunteer is requested. She is a wonder and a joy to her family, especially the more reticent among us, of which there are many. Bean is happiest at a party, a wedding being the ultimate extrovert experience. Birthday parties, her own or anyone elses, a close second. Mingling, networking, small talk with strangers, all dirty words to the introverts in our family, are Bean’s strongpoints.  But, the good news is that I am learning from Bean. Smiling at strangers is easier, chatting while standing in line at the grocery store feels more natural and maybe one of these days I’ll steal a page from Beans book and open with, “Hi, my name is Sue, I’m 45. I’m big.” She will be so proud.