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.







An Internship in Life



    Musing upon the what-ifs that lottery jackpots often spawn, someone recently asked me what I would do if money wasn’t a factor. I can’t remember who. That’s an issue lately, but I digress. I do that too -again, another issue.

    
Back to the windfall that grants dreams, though.




    My answer was too quick, too honest, too sappy. But it explains a lot.




    Like why I work with kids (okay, technically they’re adults) and love it even though it was never part of the plan.




    And why I can sit for hours tweaking writing for which I don’t get paid and spend much less time on the kind of writing that pays (little, tiny) bills.

    
If I could do anything at all for work, I’d do exactly what I’m doing right now. 

    
In different proportions, perhaps. Squeezed in-between travels around the world. But –I’d still work. I’d still write. I’d still hang around college kids.

    
Which brings me to the ill-titled blog which generates an unexpected number of monthly hits.




    This week marks Kidssuck’s one year anniversary.




    I didn’t know what it was going to be when I started it. Most days, I still don’t. But I’m still having fun with it. And you’re still reading it.

    
Thanks for that.




    Thanks also for allowing me to be less of a hypocrite when I advise my kids and my students to choose a job to do because they love it.




    With the certainty one might observe that the tide will rise, Kelley once told me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing –this writing thing. It took me decades to put my work out there, longer still to call myself “writer” when someone asked what I do. Odd, really. Because it’s as much a part of who I am as is my heritage, the color of my eyes. I can’t change it.

    
I tell everyone of the next generation who will listen: Do what you love. Don’t worry about the money.

    
It wasn’t the advice I received as a kid.




    Doesn’t matter. 




    I pretend I’m not as old as I am and I’m finally following my own advice. 

    
It’s like I’m on internship now, trying on pieces of a profession or two for size, adjusting their fit as I go. Every new job, new client, new story seems to produce another; they’re self-propagating. 

    
Instead of following a traditional path for someone my age, I’m forging one of my own. 

    
Maybe that’s why I get along so well with the college kids. On many days, I still feel like I’m just starting out. I make mistakes, ignore reality a lot, think about what-ifs far removed from lottery winnings.

    
And write.




    So, thank you. For being with me on the site’s anniversary. For joining me in these stream-of-consciousness jottings. And for giving me someone for whom to write -besides just me.






Breach of the Levee



    Their barriers are better fortified so the floods are less frequent. It may also be that, stuck on an unbreaking weather front for so long, I now miss the nuances of atmospheric change that could predict an impending deluge. The monotony of the climate has impaired my instincts for meteorological shift.



    Still, when stars and clouds align, I can sometimes become receptacle to a warm and pleasant shower of conversation from my children. Even Michael.




    Alex has always been more the flash flood sort. Her sharing comes in loud bursts of information, full of pelting details. There’s immediacy and urgency. Pay attention and take cover. I can’t always be sure what’s coming, but I’ve learned to ride out the storms; they usually don’t last long.




    Until the year he stopped talking (to me), Michael’s showers were constant and consistent. Like those sleep aid sound boxes that generate rainforest background noise. I could predict their content and clutter. There wasn’t much I needed to do to inspire the rains; little I could do to forestall them.




    He and I have been in a drought for awhile, though. I rarely feel the pulse of quenching wet weather.




    But pulled away from the stresses of his life, Michael can sometimes fall to old weather patterns. I can’t change the storm’s path or direct its flow. In fact, the wrong questions from me can dry up the conversation entirely. If I’m careful, though, I can listen, bask in the cooling waters, and learn.
 
    
Back from Boy Scout camp, and trapped in the car with me for over an hour, Michael could have settled into sleep as he often does. And he did. But not until he shared stories of his adventures –for nearly half the trip.

    
Similar results from the sound recording camp he attended at Salem State University. His enthusiasm –and words- spilled over and out and onto me. And it wasn’t just a soaking of what-he-did, but more pleasing to me was that the conversation included plans of what-he-could-do, who-he-could-be.

    
Because in the tumult of the rains, there’s nothing better to see than glimmers of light, a bit of sun.

    
And the colors of his rainbow.




Boy Scouts



    My son is a Boy Scout. 

    
Not metaphorically. He’d unlikely make the metaphorical cut.




    But he is an actual Boy Scout.

    
Green shorts, olive drab shirt, badge-pocked sash, and all.




    If you saw Michael sans uniform, you probably wouldn’t peg him as a Boy Scout. Doesn’t really look the part.

    
His association with Scouting, though? A terrific metaphor for what Michael is.

    
A contradiction.

    
From the time Michael was in elementary school, his teachers often used an interesting assortment of adjectives and nouns to describe him –the gist of their meaning easily encapsulated in a single word: puzzle (thank you Mrs. Klipfel). 

    
Luckily for Michael, those early teachers liked puzzles.




    Not so much his high school teachers.

    Even I weary of the 
challenge. 

    
And I’ve been known to become puzzle-obsessed ‘til wee hours of the morning. 

    
But the pieces of Michael’s puzzle don’t generally fit neatly to any anonymous manufacturers’ pre-fabbed slots.

    
Then, why should they?




    In some ways, Michael is what I always wished I could have been – a non-conformist. Someone who chooses his path based on his own perception of what fits with who he is and who he wants to become.




    Had I the courage to begin along a similar course when I was his age, I don’t think it’s a path I could have fully followed. There would have been doubts. And then, a turning back.

    
There’s a push and pull for many of us, particularly in those early years when we’re all so damned confused. So many kids -and the kids who we once were- really have no idea what they want to be or do when they shed their childhoods for that next big chapter of life.




    Michael must have his moments, too.




    Boy Scouts, really?




    When Michael decided to quit Scouts, I dropped him off at summer camp with the caveat that we expected him to behave, earn the requisite number of badges, support the Troop, regardless of his future plans.




    That was three years ago.




    He goes back every summer.

    
This year, I overhead Michael’s answer to the Scoutmaster’s encouraging statement/question: “See you in September./?”




    The same guy that once wanted Michael out of the Troop, now wants him to stay.

    
Really.




    “Absolutely,” Michael responded, shaking the man’s hand and looking him in the eye.




    So my son, who doesn’t look the part and listens to the beat of a different drum (a whole jazz orchestra, actually) will, in September, begin anew his commitment to a 100-year old organization steeped in obedience and conformity.
 
    
I try to tell myself that I don’t really need to get it. It’s not my job to fully understand why he does what he does.




    Michael’s always colored outside the lines.




    Maybe it’s time I step back and look at the forming picture from a different vantage so I can better see the image that’s really only just beginning to take shape.

    
(And for all those of you who wonder how Michael feels about being front-and-center in so many of these posts, I’ve always given him veto power. In fact, he’s the only family member who seems at all interested in these rantings, even when they don’t include him. He usually lets me read them to him.

    
Go figure.)



Pet Compassion


    Michael was in first grade when I summoned the strength to make the right decision and put my cocker spaniel down. Nicki was 17, old, sad. I had known much sooner than I acted, that it was time to let go. 

    
I just couldn’t.

    
And then one day, I could.




    And I did.

    
I went by myself, told no one but the immediate family. 

    
I thought I handled it well enough when I told Alex and Michael, when I gave them a chance to say goodbye.

    Maybe not.




    I received a note from Michael’s teacher the next day.




    Apparently during “pretzels” time when the kids shared the likes and dislikes of their day, Michael said that he hadn’t liked when his mother killed his dog.




    Hmmm.




    We had to put our dog down again.




    Technically, this one wasn’t ours. But with only one in the family, we all laid claim to the little guy at one point or another.




    I told Michael what was coming, offered the idea of going by Auntie Dawna’s to say goodbye to Logan.




    He took a pass.




    Logan was a good dog.




    As his aunt, I took on an occasional dog sitting shift or two. Last summer, he and I got in quality time on the beach in Maine. During designated doggy hours, I walked/he ran; I threw/he fetched. We played, made friends –mostly the four-legged kind- and took in vistas of the Atlantic surf that force the deep intake of an appreciative breath. Salty sea air –cures all that ails you.

    
Well, apparently not all.




    Logan left us just before this year’s Fourth of July beach party.




    Appropriate, since he wasn’t a fan of the fireworks.




    We’ve put off fully processing his departure.




    But we did much processing beforehand.




    Somewhere in the midst of those many conversations, I would offer the observation that we often handle end-of-life decisions for our pets far more humanely than we do for the people in our lives. With our pets, we formulate a plan and take steps of action that assure they leave us without pain and with a form dignity intact. 

    
I don’t like to think about dying. I’m one of those without a plan.




    And I should know better.




    There isn’t anything worse than watching someone die.




    I know why Michael didn’t want to say goodbye to Logan. He’s always hated transitions and saying goodbye is the worst sort.  

    
I’m with him there.




    I don’t like that we lose people too soon.




    There are always conversations unsaid, hands not held, hugs not given.




    We want another year, another week, or just a day. A single moment, even.

    
When Logan left us, he could still run the beach, fetch a tennis ball. The last memory we’ll all have of him is likely a happy one. I wish I could say the same was always true about the people in our lives.


 


    Most of us know rationally the steps we could take to offer a compassionate ending to those we love. But we hesitate, just a bit –and it’s usually just a bit too long.



    Our hearts hold out for the chance of that one more moment, even when our heads know it’s time to let go.



Rock and Roll Fever


    I’m probably too old to go to rock concerts. 

    I go anyway.

    
Not just to share the experience with my kid. He’d prefer I didn’t. And it isn’t to name myself at an in-vogue event. They are; I’m not.

    I actually go for the music.

    A gazillion years ago, some long-ago forebears of ours came out of their caves and started making noise. Most of them likely uttering guttural, pretty unpleasant sounds. Grunting –probably the root vocabulary of teenage boys. 

    But then there were the others. Emerging from those very same caves, sometime after the last hunting party had gone off for the day, they made their own sounds. I imagine upon their less-stressed entrance to the day, their attitude wasn’t so much ready-for-the kill, as ready-for-breakfast. And the tenor of their voices, less get-going and more get-down.

    
I imagine them humming. 

    
Against the grain of their tribesmen, against even the instinct of their survival, they heard –and listened to- the beat of a different drum.

    
I live with one of those.

    
Even on the worst of days, he still emerges from his own cave –with music. In his heart, in his hand, by way of an instrument, and in his hum.

    A
nd as much as he hates the possibility, he gets that from me.

    
Music is passion and even if I can never be its direct participant, I can connect to the notion of doing something you love –merely for the sake of doing it.

    
So I go to rock concerts. And often find myself too close to stoned and sweaty 20-somethings, singing along to lyrics I probably shouldn’t know. And I watch the guys on stage and live vicariously. The best of them are still shouting and strumming about the inequities of life. The youngest rail against the closest of their authority figures –parents, teachers. But those with a bit more depth take on other enemies of the day –big business, big government –the “man.” They’re burning with their own passion, but also trying to light a fire under those oft-apathetic kids in their audience banging their heads to the beat. Rockers try to send a message. With their music.

    
A long time ago, another generation did this with gusto. They built a genre around a war and made a difference.

    
It would be nice if Michael and his ilk could do the same. 

    
But it’s doubtful. 

    
It’s not that they lack talent or intelligence or even passion. What seems still missing among he and his bandmates are those other necessary components that enable one to reach a goal: a lot of work, sacrifice, follow-through. 

    
His dream is like a distant island. He’s more than willing to put his feet in the water, swim a few strokes in its general direction even. But a stray piece of driftwood, a rough sea, and he’s fully sent adrift. What he really needs is a good solid boat. Problem is, building one takes a whole lot of effort. Forethought, exertion, follow-through. Maybe even a bit of tutelage under a good boat builder.

    I go to rock concerts and hear the music. I get lost in the lyrics and sucked into the dreams. Because I still believe that dreams can come true. Not just for the guys on the stage fulfilling their own. But also in their dream of reaching the masses, getting a message through, making a difference.

    
One of Michael’s favorite bands is pretty intent on not just playing the music. The lead singer has the audacity to believe that he and his music can make the world a little better. But he’s not a kid anymore.

    
I wish Michael would listen to one of his heroes:

    “…I’m tired of living in the fable. A real sky I long to see. The journey must continue. It does not start or end with me….”

    
Michael needs to do more than put his feet in the water if he expects to make it to that island. He needs to build a boat.



A Bear in the Woods


    Or maybe not. Apparently the bears are moving out of the woods.




    It seems that every week there’s another sighting. Another roving bandit making his not-so-stealthily way through city and suburban neighborhoods across the country. They’re pulling at birdfeeders, scurrying through yards, perching themselves up in backyard trees.
 
    
According to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, this is the time of year when the mama bear kicks the kids out and sends them into the world. Those baby bears are supposed to find their own territory, start their adult lives.




    At the risk of being redundant (https://kidssuck.net/2010/09/01/deer-in-the-headlights.aspx)

and way-sexist, I posit that the sow bears are doing exactly that. Heading out of the family dens and building some of their own, on track and on target.




    But that not-so-little guy with the dumb-eyed look hanging in an Attleboro tree last week, I’ll guess he’s a boy. A teenager, for sure. And the thought bubble above his head in less-than-articulate fashion probably reads: What? Where? Vinnie Babarino in a bear’s cloak.

    
That’s not to say I don’t think the boys are smart. On the contrary, they are. That’s what makes their life delays so damn frustrating. I think Michael has actually devised a mathematical algorithm to compute the absolute minimum effort required to get by in certain areas of his life. And he’s not alone. I’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations with a few of his friends. In a foggy, fast-forward scenario, I can even picture them as adults. Responsible, good men.
 
    
But now, they’re just baby bears, a bit wild, somewhat misguided, and roving.




    And like the bears popping up in places they’re not supposed to be, many of the boys I know are taking the most circuitous routes possible to get to god-only-knows where they’re going. I don’t. And I don’t think they do, either.




    But back to the bears.
 



    All those mama bears in the woods are pushing their kids out into the world. Our world. They’ve taught them well, I’m sure. And they probably know that the girls have paid heed, will likely do just fine. But I bet mama bear also knows full-well that her baby boy isn’t quite ready for the world. Judging from the overblown reaction he gets every time he makes a backyard forage, the world isn’t ready for him either.

    
Mama doesn’t seem to care. Ready-or-not, she pushed him out anyway.




    Too bad we humans don’t do likewise.

    
Instead of following the rules of nature, we’re bucking the intended order of things. It seems that all those helicopter parents created a rash of boomerang babies. The kids often go off and out. But then they come back.




    And in true 21st century fashion, rather than remedy our missteps with action, we’re reacting with talk. There are websites, blogs, discussion forums, all themed around adult-children-living-with-parents.



    All to tell us, we’re not alone.

    T
hat’s part of the problem. Because when we’re assured that we’re not the only ones, it lends normalcy to the trend. 

    
I know of so many really good parents who’ve gotten themselves in this too-many-adults-under-one-roof predicament.




    Reminds me of the guy interviewed on television after something horrible happens in his neighborhood, saying if it can happen here.




    It can happen anywhere.




    Unless maybe we follow the bears. And the birds, for that matter. The nest above our back porch light is a-chatter with chaotic chirping in the spring. Long before summer ends, though, it’s pleasantly silent.




    Michael’s only 17. But on days when he’s performing solo drum concerts for hours-on-end, I sometimes wonder what silence emanating from his playroom nest might sound like. And if I’ll ever hear it.

Go to Start


    It isn’t usually about a student’s learning style or a professor’s eccentricities. It’s generally unconnected to too much work or too little resources. And it often has little to do with a student’s inability or an assignment’s difficulty.
 
    
When my students fail to complete their assignments or don’t do them well, the one commonality at its root can be summarized in a single word: procrastination.  

    
That isn’t to say that there’s not often a whole lot of other stuff that gets in the way of their start-to-finish. The roadblocks to the boys I know often come by way of a party; with the girls, it’s the drama.

    But for all of them, they get caught up in it. And often to the exclusion of all else.

    
Instead of buying the supplies or starting the research or making the phone call or doing the interview or drafting the outline, or any of those many tiny steps that could set them on go –they don’t. They stay still. 

    
Well, not still exactly.

    They’re generally moving, just not in the direction of the project or the paper.

    They’re battling in video worlds or chatting on Facebook walls. They’re making it to Zumba class and Wings Night. They’re taking road trips and pizza runs and pit stops to the mall. Going out to lunch or dinner. Heading to the gym, going for a run, cleaning their rooms. They’re helping friends through crises. Taking time with families.

    But in all that doing, what they’re not doing is that small pile of work relegated to the back corner of their desks or hidden in untapped files on their computers. And the longer they tap past it, the more the pile grows. Until eventually it seems to expand with the rate of a Youtube post gone viral. Out-of-control and unavoidable.

    And so they finally begin the assignment in crisis mode. 

    Not the best way to do one’s best.

    There’s a price to be paid for the putting-it-off. Not just in a ditched assignment, shoddy work, or a bad grade. There’s actually a point to most of the work their professors assign. And they’re missing it.
 
    T
hat isn’t to say that sometimes it’s not worth it. That in the throes of  procrastination, they might not discover rewards of another kind.

    My student may better remember the time she had with her friends than she will any real-world benefit she got from that one botched Research Methods paper.

    But then, maybe not. I’m not sure how much she actually remembers from that particular  night.

    That’s not the point.

    The point is that they procrastinate at the peril of their accomplishments.

    But we all do it.

    I’m doing it right now. I post to this site at the sacrifice of the should-dos and have-tos in my real-world life. And that’s a bad thing.

    But.

    In another way, I’m doing what I am supposed to do. This is an exercise of sorts. A means of keeping a finger in a craft where my whole hand should be. Because at least it’s a finger.

    But I am doing this instead of a whole lot of other stuff. Like my students.

    Many years ago I took a pause from my to-do list to join my uncle on his boat pulling lobster traps from Boston Harbor. The crazy cousin who regales with his stories and spends with a generosity that contradicts his ability to pay offered a philosophical take on the day. 

    This is the kind of day that is immeasurable in its value. You couldn’t give me a million dollars to take a pass on it.

    For all its aura of inaction, sometimes procrastination is exactly the right action to take.

    And the pile grows.