A Perfect Son



    He is the perfect young man.

    
I can say that without hesitation. For two reasons.

    
First, he isn’t mine.




    Second, he isn’t actually perfect.




    But then that makes him more perfect, still.




    He’s made his share of bad choices. He’s done things for which I am sure he is not proud. Some of them not quite legal. But he always comes back around to who he always was.




    In kindergarten, when the teacher allowed circle time to be about the children’s requests to Santa, his peers were likely asking for Furbies and Beanies, games and gadgets. He had bigger needs. 

    
Perhaps he already had a sense of how the world worked. In his little kid view, Santa must have loomed large as the go-to guy. Santa had connections.




    So when it was his turn, he had a simple request. He didn’t want a toy or a game. He didn’t want anything. The gift he wanted wasn’t even for himself –it was for his friend.

    
He must have figured Santa was high in rank on God’s payroll because he had a favor to ask of the big G. He wanted Santa to ask God to give his friend one chance, one moment, a single phone call –to the boy’s dad.  More than anything he wanted for himself, he wanted his friend to have the chance to talk to his father, a man whom the boy had never met, who had died just before he was born.

    
Santa didn’t come through. Neither did God.

    
Apparently he forgave them both. He still prays. He still believes in a higher power.

    
He and his faith have been often tested –too many times for someone so young. 

    
The college at which I work doesn’t have too many hard-knock-life stories. And most of the kids seem to get it that they’ve got it pretty easy. But I find that even here, it’s those who are asked to shoulder the most who seem most able to gather the strength to handle the weight –same holds true for the adults I know. It’s the sentiment of a saying my mom hates –that God only gives you what you can handle.

    
I understand why she takes umbrage at it. Doesn’t seem fair to me either that a benevolent God would punish you for being strong. My mom’s pretty strong; she’s be duly punished.




    My young man is also pretty strong and he’s again being tested, being asked to step up.

    
Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

    
The boy who is now an adult is too well trusted.



    By powers beyond here and by those of us who know him well. We know he will meet this next challenge as he has met so many in the past –with inner strength, quiet grace.




    I just wish he didn’t have to. It isn’t fair. And he shouldn’t be punished for being a good person.





September 11th



    Last night Michael held the extension ladder so I could attach an American flag to the face of my house. I’ve only displayed such outward patriotism on one other occasion.




    We all know where we were, what we were doing. And why the day left such a lasting and very personal impression on each of us.

    
It changed the world. For us, for our children, for future generations.




    Approaching the one-year anniversary of September 11th, an editor friend asked if I’d add to her list of contributing writers answering the query: How have you changed since September 11th? I demurred. I hadn’t started writing again and I was reluctant to come out on such an emotionally charged subject. But the request lingered and something compelled me to respond.




    In that column, I waxed nostalgic about my daughter’s entry into the world. Apartheid was fading; Nelson Mandela was stepping up to lead his nation; the Berlin Wall had been toppled. What a glorious time in which to be born.




    But post 9-11, I heaped together a list of much that was wrong with the 21st century world. About the children who would grow up with the searing images of September 11th, I wrote “It is more a part of the fabric of their lives than ours because they step into this new world order with the heavy burden of changing it all.”

    
In spite of ever-horrific headlines and newsfeeds, on good days, I still believe our children are up to the task of meeting that awesome responsibility. That they can rise up and find light even when it may be dim and unapparent to us. 

    
I wonder sometimes how to pass on optimism to our children when there are so many reasons to fall to disbelief. But realize,that in this area at least,  it is more likely they who teach us.




    Before the Little Prince’s pilot became a man, he had the clear-eyed wisdom to note that “grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”




    So it is at this moment that I turn to my daughter, my son and their friends looking for guidance. Teach me well. I can still learn. And I still believe in the promise of your tomorrows.





 

The Other Phone Calls



    I was just settling into the notion that phone calls have the potential to bring more bad news than good. That even people off the radar for bearing unwelcome tidings can do just that.




    When the phone rang.




    Michael had gone on a school trip, had had a great time (he said) and he had returned safely.

    
But the phone conversation began with –“I just wanted to talk to you about Michael’s behavior on the trip.”

    
Aaargh.




    I knew what was coming, had been here before.




    I took a breath.




    Steadied myself against a range of emotions -frustration, anger, disappointment.




    So I may have missed the first few words.

    
And then I heard “…exemplary….”




    Huh?




    It could’ve been an April Fool’s joke, but it was Mother’s Day. The interesting thing, though, was that the woman wasn’t intentionally giving me a gift. At least, I don’t think she was.




    For one thing, although she knows Michael, she has no sense of his less-than-stellar behavior at home. She actually likes him.




    But still her accolades went well beyond telling me he was a good kid, a help to her and the other chaperones and students. 

    
She was effusive.




    I tried not to act incredulous.

    
And this is where my sister-in-law would counsel me well. She’d tell me to enjoy it, revel in it even. But beware –it won’t last.

    
This isn’t about her being negative. To the contrary, Dawna’s both an optimist and a realist. It’s the latter trait that’s in play here.

    
Under the been-there-done-that chapter of parenting, Dawna gets to shine a bright light at what might be up ahead in the all too dark teen tunnel.




    But it works both ways.







    When she was in the deepest depths of her own underground cavity with regard to my nephew, I’d often call with the simple phrase: I don’t know what you’re talking about. Jonathon’s great with me.




    So when she called after hiring Michael to do yard work, it was easy to picture her, phone in hand, watching her happy nephew smiling as he raked twigs and piled brush into a wheelbarrow.




    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said to me. “He’s great.”




    But of course, she knows exactly what I’m talking about.

    
And faced with so many perfect parents and their perfect kids in tiny Toon Town, it’s kind of reassuring to know that at least among my own, I am not alone.




    The phone can ring and bring good news and they’ll be someone to benevolently remind me that it doesn’t change everything that came before it. I can still post to a blog titled: Kids Suck.




    And if it rings in answer to the fears we all silently share, they’ll be someone to help pick up the pieces of me after the news.