mothers and sons

One Way To Love A Teenage Son

by Becky on October 29, 2012 · 3 comments

in Books, Music, Parenting


My son’s a surfer. He pops up on a wave and you know it’s him, his elegant cutbacks reminding you of cursive.

My son’s mother is not a surfer. Never will be.

But just because sports isn’t necessarily my thing; just because I wasn’t the mom out in the front yard kicking a soccer ball around, just because we didn’t have matching dirt bikes (or surfboards), that doesn’t mean our interests never intersected.

Witness: books, and music. There it is. Because books and music–not always in that order–are hugely important to me, I wanted to pass along my enthusiasm. And it wasn’t hard. It’s never hard to create interest in the things that get your own heart racing.  I still remember him turning a backwards somersault on the bed as we neared the end of the first Harry Potter book.  I read it to him when he was eight.  Seems like it was last night.

So how did Harry Potter and Singin’ in the Bathtub (John Lithgow’s genius take on old standards for kids), for example, translate to the teen years? Well, I’ll try to make the story short. First of all: came a time when I really needed to draw on the many hours I had put in reading and singing aloud to my son. What I invested back in the day left me with a balance when he was older–a balance I needed to draw on. Money in the bank, so to speak, and it came in mighty handy. Second, our shared love of books and music helped me keep our connection alive when it mattered most. We segued from Rowling to Shakespeare, from clever children’s songs to Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven (just for starters) because these things had become a currency we both traded in. Indeed, in recent years, we spent countless hours, especially late at night, listening to music together and talking about the relative merits of one recording versus another, or the stylistic hallmarks of a particular musician, or just the music itself.

Just before he embarked on a two-year service effort that will separate us until he gets back, the two of us drove in to the Hollywood Bowl one night to watch Dudamel conduct the L.A. Phil performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, with the stunning Yuja Wang on the piano. There we were, my son and I, side by side on one of those immortal (read “stiff”) wooden benches, my son leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees while he listened so attentively he seemed momentarily frozen. I kept the ticket stub, and I actually pull it out every once in a while so I can take myself back to that classic outdoor evening and the young man who shared it with me.

Whatever your gifts, invite your son to practice them alongside you, in whatever way he’ll agree to.  If you make things grow, have him help you plant a fruit tree.  If you throw pots, have him sit and get his hands wet and messy as he styles his own.  If you’re the world’s gutsiest woman base jumper, ask him to film you leaping from whichever building happens to be the world’s tallest at the moment.  Even if he’s afraid of heights, he can stay below and zoom in as you’re rocketing toward the ground.

Sometimes I wish I could visit my younger self and tell her this: keep talking books, keep reading them aloud, and keep that music going, all kinds of it, until the house and everyone in it fairly vibrates with wonder. “Do that,” I’d instruct the younger me, “and you’ll keep your son close, no matter how the teen years buffet you.”

There are many ways to love a teenage son.  I know this one.  And I have total faith that when we create intersections, our sons will step into them again and again because we’ve shown them where to come.

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So I’m standing in the kitchen having an interesting conversation with my son, electric mixer in hand, a package of Jello-O instant chocolate pudding finding its right life in one of my metal mixing bowls. And it’s jell-o-ing nicely, which no doubt explains why I fail to notice that the bowl has begun inching its way toward the edge of the counter. Picture it: my son, earnest and attentive; me, very invested in our theme; the pudding, sneakily itching to spill itself. When it’s already too everlastingly late, the bowl slips off, arcs toward the floor, and upon making contact, detonates the pudding, which, like a grenade, goes splattering everywhere, hitting every imaginable surface within a five foot radius. Instantly it congeals, leaving a veritable chocolate constellation arrayed across the entire kitchen. And I haven’t even realized (because I am staring open mouthed at this apocalyptic mess) that the mixer is still on. By the time I shut it off, I understand why the pudding has also, with centrifugal perfection, hit the stove top, the walls, the cupboards, the ceiling, and pretty much every surface north of my waist. One of the beaters has flown off, hit the floor, and skidded to a stop near the refrigerator. 

Pudding on the ceiling

Curiously, the bowl has landed right side up, a modest portion of undisturbed pudding still waiting (patiently, it seems) to be served up.

Pudding on the toaster

My son’s mouth also has fallen open. “Whoa!” he murmurs, admiring the art work.

Pudding Sandwich

“Oh . . . my gosh,” I say. “Oh my gosh. Oh . . . my . . . gosh,” I say over and over, the bewilderment temporarily nudging out any words but those three. My son and I look at each other and start to laugh. He’s been mowing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which he announces he intends to take one more bite of before plunging in to help me clean up.

Predictably, the demining effort moves slowly. It involves extracting, cleaning, mopping, more mopping, sweating. It involves large quantities of surface cleaner and paper towels. I feel like the Karate Mom: wipe on, wipe off.

Pudding Mop

The intervention in fact takes most of the afternoon because I cannot work on any one horizontal or vertical patch before getting so discouraged that I have to sit down and console myself with servings of leftover pudding, which go well with sides of whipped cream, which eventually (what nerve!) run out.

Two things I have learned. One, I must never, ever talk while operating an electric mixer. Two, my son definitely has a future as a fingerpainter.

Pudding Explosion Art

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