Tuesday, April 24, 2012


You can’t have lived your life as a parent without being on the receiving end of any number or nature of surprises.  I think part of the nine month in utero experience for babies includes some training in the art of surprising parents.
As the boys left home and returned for the holidays, the stories began to unfold as we all gathered at the dinner table. For instance, my husband had never told me about the day the neighbor came over to complain that one of our sons was calling his son some very, very bad names. Our son was mowing and venting his anger not realizing his voice was carrying through the neighbor’s window. Or how about the time I got a call from Key West to let me know our son and his friends were starting home from spring break, now that they had raised bail to get him out of jail? My husband would have told me about that if he had known!
I think one of their best kept secrets had to do with the big round spot on the wallpaper on the bulkhead of the kitchen. For years I had assumed it was left when one of them bounced a dirty basketball against the wall. Oh no…I learned, at another family gathering, it was the perfect outline of a piece of bologna that was thrown up there and stuck, probably as part of some contest. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised because it was just a few feet from the kitchen ceiling fan where the boys flung applesauce from a spoon to see what the spray pattern would be like. To this day, I don’t know which son is responsible for either event. That’s an even bigger surprise-no one ratted!
I feel fortunate. On the parent surprise meter these events hardly move the needle. We were lucky parents, indeed. Occasionally surprised, but mostly lucky.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Boys

              Somewhere around the age of 5 or 6, boys stop publicly showing or wanting displays of affection. The big, extended, heartfelt hugs and kisses are replaced with “fly-bys”—cursory hugs with a quick turn of the head so any attempt at a kiss lands somewhere between the left ear and the back of the neck.
                Having been through this phase with our sons, my husband and I were prepared when our older grandson started school. We didn’t want to let him escape out the front door or head off to bed without somehow letting him know we love him, but we knew he certainly didn’t want a mushy sentimental hug.
                My husband and I each have our own approach to this phase in a boy’s life. He can still get away with the “bigger bigger,” a VERY tight squeeze designed to make a young boy squeal like a girl. It’s a man to man challenge and will probably evolve into some kind of bone crushing handshake. All of this is perfectly acceptable. There’s no overt sentimentality; just a testosterone charged competition.
                I’ve taken a softer approach, since it’s not really appropriate for a grandmother to squeeze the living breath out of a child of any age or gender. I have taken the high road which is evolving with each grandchild’s waning tolerance for affection. From the age of 2 or so I lavished each boy at bedtime and upon departure with the same fond ritual.
                “Did you know I love you today?”…head shake, yes. “Did you know I loved you yesterday?”…another head nod. “Do you know I’ll love you tomorrow?”…final head nod. Then we touch pointer fingers while I make a buzzing noise and say “All my love to you.”
                As time goes by, the boys begin filling in the time words and the buzzing sound until that magic age of aloof shyness hits. Then our routine changes to just touching pointer fingers without the schmaltzy narrative. And now, I just hold up my pointer finger to an 8 year old boy who smiles and breezes through an obligatory hug.
                Whenever I write notes to the boys, I leave out the XXXOOOs and draw a circle around an inverted V; it’s the paper version of my buzzing finger. I think this arrangement can take me through the preteen and teen years into adulthood when genuine hugs return to favor.

Saying Goodbye

                I saw a news segment last week describing the latest ap available to a tech-driven, smart phone, ipad saturated generation. This new, must have ap is called ifidie. (Honestly, shouldn’t it be called whenidie?). In short, this ap allows the user to write a last message friends and family that will be distributed to their preferred social media site or email in a timely way, shortly after their death. I’m not entirely sure who sends it out, perhaps St. Peter at their arrival at the Pearly Gates, for surely no use of electronics would be permitted in paradise.
                The users of ifidie say this is the most meaningful way to communicate with their children. How did that happen? My mother-in-law had an expression she often used as she tried to makes sense of the generational changes that were overtaking her genteel traditions: “I feel like I’ve been dropped here from another planet!” I have become my mother-in-law.
                I know I probably can’t control the timing or nature of my demise, so you can bet I’ll take charge of my last goodbye. I’m at the point in my life where hellos and goodbyes are about even, but the time is coming when the goodbyes will begin to dominate, until I finally reach the last goodbye. At that point there will be no last minute reminders, apologies, or words of sentiment required. By then, my actions will have spoken volumes.
                My children already know they are the single most meaningful accomplishment in my life. I couldn’t be more proud of the adults they have become, armed with enviable work ethics and a tolerance for others that serve them well in both their casual and meaningful relationships. My husband knows that 42 years of marriage is not an accidental milestone. If he goes before me, I won’t try again; it would be futile to attempt to duplicate this relationship. My twin sister  has always known what I needed to tell her, and my friends will let my life speak for itself; it’s all there. My grandsons will come to appreciate how much I loved them from our rituals and traditions: cooking, biking, bedtime stories, camping, swimming, and playing games.
There is no sense letting final words create a maudlin smear on the events themselves. I don’t want some fleeting sentiment thrown out in cyberspace to be deleted or forgotten. I’m living life as an epitaph that may grow shorter as it is passed to succeeding generations, but it will never be a final goodbye. Rather, I hope it will be an igniting spark.