My oldest son, otherwise known as Baby Boy, since I’m never allowed to tag him in social media without permission, is now 20 years old. I don’t know how that happened since I’m still 35. He was recently in full college student mode. He had driven down to Iowa for a fraternity brother’s 21st Birthday and was having to make the four-hour drive back feeling “under the weather”. He called to ask me to help keep him occupied while driving through endless corn fields.
As an ignored mother of 17 and 20 year olds, I jumped at the chance to be needed. I think I often behave like that needy girlfriend that we all had when we were young. You know the type? You would lecture her over lunch because she was way too accessible to her boyfriend who never treated her well. She jumped at the chance to spend any time with him even though he treated her like a third string shortstop who never got any playing time. She was pathetic, in a word.
SO happy to get any quality time with the children I’ve sacrificed everything in which to raise. Happy to get the crumbs of their time, just to be around them, even though they are less than…well…let’s just put it this way: if we were actual friends, I would have dumped the both of them long ago!
So back to the car ride. The first time Baby Boy did the car ride from Minneapolis to Ames, Iowa, he was rear ended in a hit and run accident going 70 mph. While he was unhurt (thank you, Jesus!), he did total our car. Since I’m a fan of keeping my children alive, I was happy to help keep him awake and alert. He mentioned that he wished he had a book on tape since music was making his head hurt. “just keep talking to me. What do we have to talk about?”
You’d think this would be easy for Chatty Cathy but I was speechless. I had nothing to say. He caught me when I was under some deadlines for my publisher and in intense thought about the direction of my Gridley Girls series of books. Since the manuscript for the rewritten Gridley Girls was open on my computer, I asked, “Do you want me to read to you from Gridley Girls?” I was half joking, knowing that Baby Boy is not exactly my target audience and had shown absolutely NO interest in reading my book in the last two years since it’s been available to him. In fact, he said something to the effect of, “I tried to read your book but your voice is already the one in my head that I try to shake out. Why would I want to add to it?” Ouch. But since I had a hypercritical mother myself, I get it.
“Great idea,” he said. “But don’t just read anything. I want you to pick your favorite chapter. Only the best.” He sounded like he was the father and I was the daughter. It was a grownup role reversal that I appreciated.
And also a little too much pressure. But I chose the Grease Rally chapter since that always seems to be a favorite for women my age. Again, I knew he wasn’t my target audience but who doesn’t appreciate Grease, even a little?
So I read. I pretended to be a big-time author who was actually recording her book-on-tape instead of the suburban mom I actually am. I did voices (not too much) and gave my best. After a few pages, he interrupted me and said, “Wow, Mom, you can actually write! You never told me that!”
I almost fell out of my chair. “Well thank you but how do you think I sold enough books to get a three-book deal? Did you think I was spending all this time trying to sell junk?”
Silence while he thought. “I guess I never thought about it. And Meg, is that you? I like her.”
I beamed through the telephone line. He liked me. He really liked me!
“Yes, I’m Meg,” I said. When I was done, he went on to explain how surprised he was that my characters had dimension and were likable even though they had flaws. He was glad they weren’t “ditzy girls” and was shocked that a guy his age would like this Women’s Fiction/Young Adult crossover book for girls.
And then it happened.
“Mom, can I read the book?”
“Are you kidding me? I’ve been trying to get you to read the book for years? Of course you can read it!”
The next morning, my husband was looking for Baby Boy and came up from the basement saying, “He’s downstairs reading Gridley Girls,” while shaking his head.
I almost burst into tears.
That afternoon, he came up with “notes”. Apparently, I have a new editor. The good news is I like his notes. The better news is that he’s reading an old version and I’ve already made the changes that he’s noting. He’s now reading the new version that very few people in the world have, just because he requested it because he, “doesn’t want to waste his time on the old book.” The kid has an eye. Proud mother moment.
How is it that those compliments from your teenagers and young adult children are SO incredible? Must be because you spend your life being the uncool mom or the old woman in their lives? Or is it the old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt”? Probably a combination of both. Do families ever see each other in their real light? My guess is no. I think we’re just too close to fully appreciate the career aspects of those we grow up with.
I’ve made a mental note to try and see Baby Boy through clear lenses when he enters the career world in two years. Those lenses will probably never be crystal clear since I’m the one who spent two months in bed just trying to keep him alive during pre-eclampsia and pre-term labor. I’m the one who changed all those diapers, nursed him for almost two years (TWO YEARS!), took care of every strange and ordinary illness, every accident, poison control call, broken bone, hospital visit, surgery, ER visit, teacher conference, tragic breakup with a girlfriend, cross-country move, college application, car accident, ticket, court visit for said ticket.
I’m the one who managed the homework, Confirmation work, volunteer work for church, the one who went with him on Mission Trips for church, dragged him across country for college visits, the one on the sidelines of every swim meet, game and concert, the one who tried to build him up to remember that he really is smart and really is worthy of getting into a good college. The one who forced him to make good choices, chastised him when he didn’t properly break up with a girl (“You can’t just quit talking to her! That’s not a proper break up!”). The one who had the whole family go on senior spring break to Mexico with him (at his request) to keep him safe and teach him how to drink safely before going off to college. The one who had the sex and birth control talks with him even though I just wanted to lock him (or at least his family jewels) in a closet until he was married.
I’m the mom.
So yeah, I’ll probably never see him through clear eyes. But as I move him into his very first apartment next week, knowing that he may never live with me again, (ever!) at least I’ll be able to remember that I’m a good writer.
Cuz my son said so.