Friday, April 28, 2006

If You Live Long Enough

"Mom! Come on! It's time! Let's go!" My son was actually talking at me. It was music to my ears!

Seth was seventeen years old. He is now 33 and happily married and I have been thinking about the way relationhips develop. Ours was a life long struggle to relate. The truth was apparent when my attempts at motherly devotion were, by all standards, unsuccessful. As far as I was concerned, mother and son devotion was simply a rumor perpetuated by the mothers of sons and then told to other mothers of sons so that they would never feel terrible about the fact that they are mothers of sons.

When Seth was born I was young and naive but not stupid. I knew it would take time for our relationship to be fantastic. Mothers know there are dues to be paid. Initially we would have to bond. Some time would pass and then we would relate. In the interim, (between bonding and relating), I would do everything a mother could do to make sure her child was in fine mental and physical health for the actual "connect". Each morning I would get up, strain the air with chicken soup, change his diaper, teach him some numbers and drill him on the alphabet. During the day I would put him through a rigorous baby exercise program, encourage him to study all the important elements of Sesame Street, and cart him off to Water Babies. In the evening I would disinfect his room, his toys, and his body. As the last activity of the day I would read "Green Eggs and Ham", "Leo the Lion" Who Couldn't Do Anything Right, or some other substantial intellectually challenging, bedtime story. Finally, tired but satisfied with my performance, I would sit back and fantasize about how someday we would visit the zoo TOGETHER, travel to other continents TOGETHER, and TOGETHER discuss the problems of the world.

By the time he was six my dreams were still in the "interim" period, and he was designing his own day. Undaunted, I continued to look for a way to participate in his life. It was during these periods of search that I noticed that he did things which drove me crazy. He was incapable of sitting through a meal, a conversation, or a disciplinary action. This multi-talented child actually had the ability to chew a piece of chicken, have a conversation and run non stop around the dinner table at twenty miles an hour -- all at the same time! I felt sure that the "unsititus" was not a genetic physical disability and despite the fact that it demonstrated an incredible aptitude for physical coordination skills it was an element of his behavior which I just couldn't encompass in togetherness.

The years passed. I read Dr. Spock, Haim Ginott, and T. Berry Brazelton. I read P.E.T. and T.E.P. and E.P.T. Everything and anything I could find which gave even the slightest indication that there were actually methods for establishing meaningful mother-son contact. Nothing worked. By the time he was ten I was in total despair. The only thing we had in common was an allergy to dust. When he was eleven even simple conversation was agonizing. At twelve we needed a diplomatic truce along with simultaneous translation to discuss what kind of jelly he wanted on his peanut butter sandwich. What to do? Take him on an exciting and mysterious trip. Take him to The Middle East I knew we'd find something in common by sharing an experience in Israel and Egypt. Wrong again! He liked the hotel in Israel because it had twenty-four hour a day TV movies. The only Western Wall which interested him was the one which held the pastries in the coffee shop. Each exciting day began with an argument. Visiting some wonderful place steeped in history was torture . After all, he was on vacation. He was out of school. Why should he have to learn anything? He hated Egypt. There were no good burgers. He did like the swimming pool at the Mena House but felt that a trip to the Pyramids was an interruption in his day. He rode on a camel,reluctantly and only because the camel mahout ignored his protests in English and simply lifted him aboard. When he was finally convinced him to visit King Tut's Tomb, he responded, "O.K. I'll go but when YOU WERE ALIVE did your parents make you do all these stupid things!"

You might think he was ungrateful or a pain in the neck. This was not the entire case. He was simply a thirteen year old boy and had a totally different definition of fun than did his mother. In fact, he thought he was doing me a grand favor by traveling at all. For some reason spending three weeks with people who used to be alive was not was a great priviledge. At fourteen he found it necessary to slam dunk his skate board on newly polished wood floors. When he was tired he never just sat. It seemed preferable to collapse, full force, into a carefully chosen, exceedingly delicate antique chair. Noise drove me nuts while stomping, slamming, heaving, and painfully loud music appeared to be the keys to his physical well being. What is wrong with a boy aged one or six or thirteen? Would I ever know? Never! Why? Because I was never a boy!
"O.K." I thought, "I give up! We don't share, we don't understand, we might never have anything in common and we can't talk. Things could be worse. But much to my surprise, when he was 17, everything changed.
"Mom could you take me to a dermatologist. I hate the way my skin looks?"
"Sure", I said. "I was just thinking I needed to make an appointment for myself."
A few sentences and like magic we found a bond that transcended gender and generations: skin problems: He had pimples and I had recently discovered I had wrinkles. He was growing up and I was growing old and this presented us with the opportunity to have something in common -- to do something together. Visit the dermatologist. After that, at night he called to me or I to him. We would meet outside the bathroom and kiss each other hello, briefly but genuinely. We would wash our faces and discuss the act of drying carefully. Then, while we waited one half hour for our skin to settle, we sit and converse about the day. Finally, we would take out the blue and white tube, measure a pea-sized amount of cream into our hands and carefully apply the miracle extract Retin A. to our somewhat imperfect skin. If you live long enough... We're just sayin


Walt said...

My Mom went to Egypt without me.

I went to Israel without her.

We both went to Austria together. We didn't talk about anything important.

Neither of us had skin problems.

Sons and Moms. It happens.

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