Missed Opportunity

“My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and there were bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talking ‘fore I knew it and as he grew
He’d say, “I’m gonna be like you, dad
You know, I’m gonna be like you”

This past weekend, I accompanied my daughter on a shopping trip.  I usually avoid malls, but Elizabeth wanted to check out a specific store only found in a nearby mall, and happy to spend the day together, I agreed to brave the crowds.

We parked the car and headed through the door, dodging a couple who were texting rather than watching where they were walking.  We passed a cosmetic stand where a sales associate awkwardly tried to sweep the latest blush over the cheek of the client seated before her. The customer was loudly talking on her cell phone, completely unaware of how difficult she was making the task for the associate.  As we crossed the mall floor, I almost rear-ended the young man in front of me who had suddenly slowed his pace so he could redial.

Finally, we reached the store Elizabeth wanted to visit.  I browsed through the dresses with her, and when she went into the dressing room to try a few on, I plopped myself on one of two red wooden chairs to rest my aching back.

eliz tat 5.24.16It was not long before Elizabeth summoned me to her door to give my opinion on the dress she was trying.  As usual, she looked beautiful; tall and willowy, with huge gray eyes fringed with thick lashes.  The dress, silky and black, set off the tattoos I have come to embrace.  She is exquisite.  And unique.

I smiled.  “Lovely.  You look beautiful.  Do you like it?”

She nodded, relieved that I approved.

“Try the others, just for fun,” I urged.  A shopping trip is not worth the time and effort if you leave after only trying one item.

I turned to sit down again, when a family of four entered the dressing area.  Mom and the little girl closed themselves in a dressing room.  The little girl appeared to be about seven years old. She skipped as she hugged a green and white dress and excitedly shut the door behind her.  Dad and his son sat in the two chairs and each pulled a cell phone from his pocket.

“Rats! I should have taken my seat sooner. I missed my opportunity,” I thought.

The son looked to be in middle school.  He was handsome and well-dressed, and sported an ace bandage on his left wrist and arm, like the kind that results from a skateboard injury.  I thought of my own son, Gabriel at that age.  All arms and legs, he had reminded me of a colt waiting to burst into a full gallop.  He was in awe of the world, filled with questions and opinions.  He was always in motion; drumming to a song heard only in his head, tapping a toe, jiggling a heel, reaching to see if he could touch the ceiling.  Every moment with that child was an adventure, and although I adore the man he is now, I miss the boy he was.

The father and son never said a word to each other, each engrossed in his cell phone.  Soon the little girl emerged from her dressing room.  She twirled in the green and white dress as her mother said, “Show Daddy.”

She twirled again, obviously pleased with herself.  Dad glanced up from his cell phone and shrugged his shoulders.

“What do you think?” asked Mom.

Dad looked up and shrugged again.

“Raise your arms,” Mom instructed, and the little girl reached toward the ceiling, presumably to see how short the dress would rise.

Dad shrugged again, and went back to his cell phone.

“Okay,” said Mom, and the two went back into the dressing room.

At that moment, Elizabeth emerged, happy with her selection and we headed for the checkout area.  I was happy that she found a dress but I couldn’t forget with the missed opportunities I had just witnessed and they had nothing to do with a red chair or a sore back.

I’m sure those parents love their children.  Most do.  And the children are probably well cared for.  They looked healthy, well fed and clean.  They obviously have stuff.  New clothes.  Cell phones.

But they could have so much more.  It was the perfect time for Dad and son to bond over the boy’s injury or bemoan the trials of waiting outside the dressing room.  Or talk about how they would spend the rest of the day.  Or discuss a book, or a T.V. program, or how the Red Sox are having an abysmal season.

If only Dad had put down his cell phone, he would have seen that his little girl was searching for his opinion- his validation.  All children look to their parents for approval, and it’s so easy to satisfy this need.  All he had to do was tell her how pretty she looked in that dress, or that it didn’t do justice to her freckles and ponytail, or that the dress looked pretty because she was wearing it.  Just a few words.  A few crucial words.

john and judah 11.15.15I love technology and social media.  I check my Facebook wall several times a day, read my WordPress stats as soon as I post and take my cell phone with me whenever I leave the house.  But sometimes I feel as if our love for technology does more to isolate us than to bring us together.  Time with our loved ones is something we take so much for granted.  Every minute we have with each other is a chance to share a slice in time.  A chance to share opinions.  A chance to listen.  To watch.  To affirm.  To cherish.  Let’s not miss our opportunity.

“Well, I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away
Called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time”

“You see, my new job’s a hassle and the kid’s got the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me”

~Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle”

The Secret’s Out

When I was in sixth grade, my sister Martha-Jean and I agreed that we would reveal what we had gotten each other for Christmas before the big day.  We stole to our bedroom and she showed me a gold bracelet with an iridescent heart charm that dangled from one of the links.  I thought it was beautiful but some of the thrill was gone.  I realized that part of the fun of giving and receiving gifts is the anticipation and surprise and I vowed never to peek again.

baby cubSo when my daughter Abigail and her husband John announced that they were to find out the gender of their unborn child (AKA “the cub”) I had mixed feelings.  To me it seemed that the most exciting part of birth is when all eight months culminate in the gender announcement from the attending doctor or midwife.  The memory of those choruses from the doctors and nurses in the delivery room, followed by the cries of my newborns are among the sweetest songs I know.

Still, this is John’s and Abby’s pregnancy, and I’m glad to stand at the sidelines and let them call the shots.  They wanted to know, and because they wanted to know, I wanted to know.  So Monday morning, they had an ultrasound.  Abby called me on her way to work and told me the news.

“It’s a boy!”

Now, the truth is, I would have been equally thrilled if she had told me the baby is a girl.  I adored having children of both genders and I welcome any grandchild, no matter what sex, color, size or shape.  But hearing the announcement and subsequently seeing the ultrasound pictures, made it real. 

The cub is a boy.

sailor suitI told everyone in sight, and immediately started imagining my little grand-cub dressed in one piece sailor outfits and saddle shoes.  (Yes, I know it’s cliché clothing, but baby boys dressed like that are so darned cute!)

A short time later, Abby emailed me from her office:

“WHAT THE HECK AM I GOING TO DO WITH A BOY?????!!!!!!!!!!”

abby2Abby is my firstborn.  From the moment her little blond head and blue eyes appeared, she liked everything glittery and girly.  She loved sparkly jewelry, My Little Pony and ballet shoes.  She never drooled or made a mess, or got into trouble.  She waved like the queen and grinned at strangers who crossed the grocery store to shake her dimpled hand and tickle her blushing cheeks. 

And then I had Gabe.  From the beginning, he was different.  Abby had squeaked and murmured when she was hungry, and gently sipped at my breast, taking a break to gaze at my eyes and utter a ladylike little burp.  Gabegabe2 was like an industrial strength vacuum cleaner.  He roared with hunger, latched on like his life depended on it, and drained me in minutes, belching his grand finale to the feeding frenzy.  He constantly drooled, soaking his bibs, t-shirts and overalls.  He threw his rattles and screamed if he couldn’t find his pacifier.

So when I read Abby’s email, I chuckled, but I understood.  I remember that feeling of uncertainty, that first step into unfamiliar territory.  I remember bringing home my son from the hospital, how I wondered if he, his father, his sister and I would be able to become a family.  How I feared that I would not be able to relate to him.  And then I remembered the years that followed, and typed my reply:

“You will LOVE having a son.  Sons create balance our lives.  They keep us grounded and from buying too much pink.  He will be his daddy’s mini-me, and he’ll think you are beautiful when you cry because you don’t have the right clothes to wear or your belly sticks out more than you want.  He’ll make you jewelry from macaroni for Mother’s Day and boast that you are the best cook in the world.  He’ll want you to watch him flex his muscles and count while he stays underwater in the tub, and when he hugs your neck and kisses you on the cheeks, you will feel like the world could explode around you and you won’t care.”

Abby needn’t worry.  I know what she doesn’t yet known- that the moment the little cub arrives they will bond with a love stronger than she ever knew possible.  I know that she and Johnny will figure out what soothes him, what excites him, what makes him giggle with glee and what drives him to their arms for protection.  I know that the cub will grow up to be a companion who brings them a world filled with excitement, joy, and pride.  He will pull them to their fullest height and drive them to their knees. 

And as for me?  I will try to restrain myself from buying too many cute little hats, toosaddle shoes 2 many cuddly teddy bears and too many books about pirates and knights in shining armor.  I’ll bake him cookies and read him stories and snuggle him close, whispering secrets in his ear about the antics of his momma, aunt and uncle.

So the secret’s out.  The cub’s a boy, and I couldn’t be happier.

Love Notes

A couple of weeks ago, my son Gabe received notification from the University of Leeds that he had indeed met all the qualifications required for his Master’s degree.    This, of course, made my mother’s heart swell with pride, and I immediately conveyed my congratulations to him and emailed all one hundred of my closest friends to give them the good news.  There is an unspoken pact among mothers that when it comes to boasting about our kids’ educational milestones, all rules of etiquette are suspended for a twenty-four hour period, allowing us to brag ad nauseum without social repercussion or consequence.   I took full advantage of this.

And then,  this morning, while rummaging through some photographs, I fell upon a wrinkled slip of paper that made my heart swell to the extent that it leaked out of my eyes.  I unfolded the paper to find a note that my young scholar wrote when he was seven.  My thoughts flew to Gabriel in second grade.  He was tall and so thin that the other kids made fun of scarecrow physique and his missing teeth.  He loved to read, but he hated any schoolwork that resembled mindless repetition.  One day, while visiting his classroom, I searched the brightly decorated bulletin boards for my son’s work.  At one end of the classroom was a display of poems, obviously meant to be second grade gifts for Mother’s Day.  There were rows of papers, neatly penned, framed with hand drawn pictures of flowers, kittens, and bunny rabbits.

                “Roses are red

                Violets are blue

                Sugar is sweet

                And so are you.”

Where was my son’s work?   I looked back and forth across the rows of red roses and blue violets.  Surely he did one -he hadn’t been absent.  Perhaps he hadn’t finished.  No, the dates on the papers indicated that they had been done several days prior. Surely he had time to finish his work.  Maybe he didn’t want to participate in a Mother’s Day gift. I had yelled at him last week after stepping on his little green army men with my bare foot.  And I nagged him to clean up his room. Again.  And to stop teasing his little sister.  Again.

God.  Maybe my kid hates me.  

At last I found it, the last in the bottom row, scrawled in pencil, barely perceptible amid the riot of cheerfully crayoned pictures labored over by his classmates.   My eyes welled up then, as they did this morning. 

For the next several years, school was a challenge.  Gabe never learned to color, or to do the same work the same way that everybody else did. 

But you know, I’m kinda glad he didn’t.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Friends of mine just gave birth to their first baby.  Like generations before them, this couple has carefully planned and prepared for this child.  The nursery was painted, tiny clothes were lovingly folded and hung, and a meaningful name was selected.  They attended childbirth classes, read all the books, consulted all the experts.  No couple has ever been better prepared. 

Their beautiful boy decided to surprise them by joining the world six weeks earlier than his anticipated arrival.  In celebration of this event, this Momma-G post is kind of an open letter:

Dear B & N,

As you well know, you have been catapulted down the road of parenthood.  Not for the weak of heart, this path is full of bumps, hills, and unexpected adventures.  It is sometimes hard to navigate, will leave you uncertain of your parental capabilities, and will bring excitement at every turn.  One thing is for sure- this life with your child will be full of surprises.

Your child will surprise you by eating more food than any toddler could possibly pack away, and less than a bird could survive on, depending upon the day of the week.

Your child will surprise you when he mimics the “F” word that you thought he didn’t hear when you stubbed your toe on his crib.

Your child will surprise you by eating a huge lunch after complaining of a belly ache and staying home from school.

Your child will surprise you by throwing up on his school desk after you send him to school with a belly ache, convinced that he was faking.

Your child will surprise you when he climbs out of his crib, creeps into your room unnoticed and decides that watching his parents in bed is a spectator sport.

Your child will surprise you when he swears his homework is done every night for a month and then brings home a warning of failure note from his teacher.

Your child will surprise you by bringing home a macaroni necklace and expecting you to wear it to church on Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day.

Your child will surprise you by his creativity when he draws on the walls with indelible marker, and scratches his initials into the top of the antique dresser in his room.

Your child will surprise you when he remembers your birthday with flowers he hand picked from the neighbor’s garden.

Your child will surprise you when you realize he is stronger, faster,  smarter and more articulate than you are.

Your child will surprise you when he returns from borrowing your car and he’s left it clean, with a full tank of gas.

Your child will surprise you when you realize he is a man who puts the needs of others before his own, takes responsibility for his own destiny and cooks dinner not only for himself, but for you, too.

Your child will surprise you when he walks down the aisle of a church, or a college graduation, or stands at attention for a promotion, and you wonder when he grew to be so tall and handsome, and where the years went.

Congratulations, B & N.

…Thank you, Gabe

Oh Boy!

Friends of mine recently announced they were expecting a baby boy.  Immediately, my mind flew to the moment my own son was born.  As the doctor pulled him out of my belly, everyone in the room crowed at once, “It’s a BIG boy!”

 

Before I had a son, I thought little boys and little girls were pretty much alike.  Aside from the obvious differences, it seemed to me that boys had the same needs to be fed, clothed and nurtured as girls.  It seemed simple.

 

Then I had Gabriel.

 

From the time he was an infant, he looked at life differently from his sisters. He had a different intuition, a different sensitivity and a different way of approaching life.  He tried things that his sisters would not.  He responded to me in a way that was different from my girl babies.

 

For one thing, there was the play/work confusion.  Boys mix play with work much differently from girls.  When my daughters were told to clean their room, they played “mother” and neatly put away their toys, books, and clothing.  When Gabe was told to clean his room, he played “basketball star.”  He carefully hung a plastic bag from his basketball hoop.  He rolled his clothes into a ball, ran across his room, stuffed the ball into the bag and hid it under the bed. 

 

When I sent my girls upstairs to brush their teeth, they climbed the stairs, turned on the water, spread Colgate on their toothbrushes and scrubbed until their teeth shone.  Not so, Gabe.  He turned on the water, put toothpaste on his toothbrush and brushed the mirror.  He filled the sink with water, plunged his face into the basin, spit water onto the mirror and drove a toy car through it.  Twenty minutes later, he emerged, leaving the bathroom soaked and his teeth untouched. 

 

He managed to break six bones in his foot by falling out of a tree.  The cast was not even dry before I caught him playing street hockey with the neighbors.  That same summer he fell off his bike, cracked his helmet and got such a concussion he could not find our house.  A couple of months later, he fell from playground equipment and fractured his coccyx.  He infected the entire kindergarten with chicken pox.  He wore through the soles of his sneakers from playing street hockey, basketball, and football on the pavement outside our front door. He hid half eaten sandwiches in his sock drawer.  He got into fist fights with his friend Matthew, and then an hour later asked if Matthew could stay for dinner.

 

On his bed, Gabe always kept five stuffed animals he called The BoysThe Boys were his posse. Their job was to ride shotgun through the perils that beset him in his dreams, play guard under the Nerf basketball hoop on his closet door and to lend an open ear when he was in trouble and sent to his room.  They made life for a little boy sandwiched between two sisters bearable. The summer he went to overnight camp, I sat on his bed and stared at The Boys, aching at the emptiness of his too-clean room.

 

Now grown, Gabe is still different from his sisters. When I need affirmation, I talk to my girls.  They will tell me what I want to hear. They are part of the sisterhood that encourages, identifies, soothes.

 

But when I need truth, no matter how brutal, my son will tell me what I need to hear.  He is not unkind, but he is straightforward, direct, and honest. How many times has he been the voice of reason amid the chaos of estrogen-laced emotionalism?  How many times has he given up his own plans to help me out when I have taken on a project too big to handle alone?  How many times have I confided in him, knowing he would help me separate the facts from the feelings?  I marvel at the size of his shoulders, the strength of his hands, the way in which he assumes charge during a crisis. This boy child has become a man.

 

Yes, boys are different from girls.  And I am so glad they are. 

 

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