Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Love Of The Past

When I was an ignorant teenager, not only did I not know I was ignorant but as a result, I failed to appreciate many things in my life. One of these was my first high school boyfriend. When I think of him now, sharpened through the lens of hindsight, I see a sweet, thoughtful, artistic gentleman. He brought me a single red rose every time he came to pick me up. He wrote me love letters on parchment paper and illustrated them with cliffs and castles, creating magical worlds for my imaginative mind and heart.

But I was so wrapped up in personal insecurity and fear of the world at large that, as much as he had to offer, I couldn't see beyond my own pitiful self to relate to him. I can't even remember sending him a single letter. When he finally broke up with me, via letter, every point he made about why he couldn't stay with me was valid and true. And seeing the truth about my ignorant self printed before me was too painful to bear, let alone read over and try to learn from. I threw out the letter and all the ones that had preceded it.

Ah, regret, how are you today? Always abysmal to see you.

Fast forward thirty-some-odd years. I'm now the proud mother of a sweet, thoughtful, artistic gentleman. He has a girlfriend, but he laments rarely getting to see her as they live a town apart. Though they speak on the phone, text and Skype with each other, these methods of communication lack the intimacy they can share when they're together. So I suggested Jacob write her a letter.

I gave him some nice stationery and an envelope. I told him of my long ago letter writer, his penmanship and drawings, which I can still see in my mind's eye.

"There's no limit to what you can write," I told him.

This was several days ago. Since then, he's been thinking, drafting and, until late last night, writing. This morning I mailed the letter, neatly addressed with a purposely placed, upside-down stamp.

Whatever may come for the young couple, I hope the letter's recipient values it for the novelty it is, even more so today than in my pre-email and cellphone teen years. I hope she will keep the letter (and any future missives) until she is older and wiser. Then I hope she will re-read them and recall with fondness their youth, innocence and intimacy. But most of all, I hope she will appreciate the rare and unique gift she received: a ticket to travel back to a sweeter time and place whenever she wants, one she can forever hold in her hands.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Raising Husbands Who Get It

Sometimes I think about my future daughters-in-law. True, it's early, but I already feel a responsibility toward them to raise men who will make their lives as my sons' wives happy, fun and (dare I say it) easier.

To this end, I've realized I can't always be the taskmaster. Sometimes I need to just be a woman. That is, I need to be able to read--and react--to a really good book. And I need to do it without worrying about what my sons think.

Son: "Mom? Are you OK?"

Me: *sniff* "I'm fine."

Son: "Why are you crying?"

Me: *shakes head* "I just... I just finished a book."

Son: "Um, and you don't know what to read next?"

Me: "No, the characters. She thought she could save him, but he... they..." *leaves room for more tissues*

Of course, the same goes for movies. If I'm sitting down to a non-Pixar movie and there's a love story involved, sit and watch beside me at your own risk. Soggy popcorn will likely be involved.

My mom never cried in front of us when I was growing up (though not because we didn't give her good reason). So I was well into my thirties before I would let anyone else see me cry, likely because it was just something I'd never seen done. I presume it was the same way in my husband's house when he was growing up, as he tends to roll his eyes and shake his head when I cry at books or movies. But I want the women my sons date to be comfortable getting weepy and emotional without my sons getting freaked out. Better they should learn now that this is something women just do, and that it has nothing to do with them.

They say death, sex and money are the topics that don't get explored in polite conversation. I'd go so far as to say that showing emotion also falls into that category, and I'm doing my part to change this.

To best help them understand the feeling, I have repeatedly viewed Hachi: A Dog's Tale and had them watch it with me. It's not hard. Richard Gere is very easy on the eyes. The movie is based on the true story of a college professor's bond with the abandoned dog he takes into his home. It's about love and friendship, loyalty and loss, just like any good book or movie, and it always makes the kids cry.

So to my sons' future girlfriends and wives,  know that I'm thinking of you and doing all I can on your behalf, at least as far as this is concerned.

You're welcome.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

When Being Unremarkable Means Everything

The other day, a friend commented to me about the high school principal's back-to-school assembly to students this year.

"Wasn't it amazing what he did?" she asked.

Since she has daughters in high school and I have a son, it became clear to me that my kid rarely shares anything that goes on at school while hers share everything. I told her I had no idea what she was talking about.

"He basically 'came out' to the student body and shared his story about growing up gay and how difficult it was for him. He had a conversation with the kids, talked about how he was bullied and went to school in fear, and then made it clear that this kind of behavior would absolutely not be tolerated in the school he was running."

"He came out? But I thought everyone already knew he was gay," I said.

"Yes, but he made it a point to say so himself and then open up a dialogue about respect with the students."

"That is completely awesome."

"And I think I know why he did it," she said.

I was pretty sure I knew why too. We turned to each other and said the girl's name. Then we nodded in agreement.

I'll call the girl Mary for the purposes of this post. Mary is a transgender student who was born a boy, who I'll call John. She's an awesome kid from a great family, and has known my son since they were both in second grade. They've remained friends through the years and often attended after-school events together. I was driving Mary home one day early last year and the kids were talking about relationships, boyfriends and girlfriends. Mary said she'd been in a relationship but was newly single.

"Oh, I'm sorry. That's never fun," I said to her (this was when she was still John).

"It's OK. He wasn't very nice anyway," he replied.

"By the way, Mom, John's gay," my son said from the backseat.

"Well," I paused, trying to think of what relevance this had on the conversation, "that doesn't make it hurt any less," I offered.

There were parties and gatherings throughout the rest of the year that my son was invited to and Mary (as John) was often there. Toward the end of the year though, my son told me John was now Mary. She was a she and I should refer to her as such, and by her new name.

"Okeedoke," I said. And so I did.

This was not really surprising to me, but I was very happy that Mary was comfortable enough with her friends, herself and especially with me to be sharing the information so openly.

The news of what the principal did made me proud. Both that Mary is cared about enough in her school community to be protected from any potential ill-will, and that this message is being sent both to the student body and the families in town.

I was surprised, though, that my son hadn't mentioned the principal's speech to me. Even if he doesn't want to share the details of his school and social life with me, this felt like kind of a big deal.

"Jacob, did you go to the back-to-school assembly?"


"How was it?"

"Fine. The same as every year."

"Oh. So the principal has this conversation about being gay and telling students to be tolerant every year?"

"No, that was new."

"Well, Ms. Smith and I think it was great, and that he probably did it because of Mary. Why didn't you tell me about it?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "It didn't seem like that big a deal."

Mary's identity change is old news to my son. She's still the same friend whose company he's enjoyed for almost ten years. The principal is the same principal my son's had for the past two years. And respect and tolerance is something he's been taught since he was a toddler.

When I read the news, I worry over the future of the world and how the younger generation will handle the weight of all that's wrong in it today. To my son, these events at school are no big deal. That, to me, means everything. Most importantly, it gives me hope.