Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Self-Sufficient Young Man

Throughout the hubbub of completely dismantling and rebuilding a life, it is easy to overlook the simple day-to-day events, even more so to undervalue a holiday.

My son celebrated his birthday this week. Now living in two households with at least one distracted parent, it was a birthday that stretched over the entire week. I saw it coming, had my eye on the day like a field mouse seeing a shiny object while keeping an eye out for a swooping hawk: it lured my interest, but I remained focused on the necessities of survival.

We talked about what he wanted and which nights he would be where. A few suggestions around cake and guests were bantered about, but nothing really took hold, and this was all the same time his sister was leaving for her first year at college. Most of his ideas and wishes required much less attention.

He did offer that instead of an awesome new road bike, he would be pleased if we could refurbish my ancient Peugeot. Undeterred by my hems and haws, a week early, he took it to the shop for an estimate and called me to come and see. He knew I would not make him walk it back home.

Towards the weekend, he said it looked like a bunch of friends would take me up on my summer long offer to let him host a campfire (we live on an acre of woods between 2 “cities”). I suggested a birthday cake celebration, but he wanted no presents or a party, just a campfire and friends. So Friday afternoon, I grabbed pretzels, root beer and lots of burgers for hungry teens. The chainsaw roared through the woods making logs out of a half-century of debris. He and the first arrivals dug a pit and circled up stones until mosquitoes chased us inside.
A small apartment with no place for me to hide, they kindly tolerated my presence and filled our home with laughter. After dark, and surrounded by citronella candles, s’mores performed their usual magic and a few guitars had been brought. Although I discreetly tried to stay out of the way, he invited me to bring out mine and join them, singing songs he loved as a little one.
The fire peacefully settled the night into promises of many more such this Fall, and in the summers to come.

On Monday, the actual date of his birth, we planned to meet after the soccer team dinner and go for cake, just the two of us. On my way to pick him up, however, I learned he was off to watch movies with friends. Hardly seeing him since the campfire, the disappointment sobered my evening like a punch, and my apartment felt terribly lonely.

Our next time together was Wednesday, and he confessed to a need for cake, a chain-store bought sugar-loaded monstrosity with toxic colors. Too late and spontaneous to get his name on it, we settled for the smallest—which still could feed a party of kids—picked a candle, and came home to a movie. At a crucial scene, I realized he was in the kitchen lighting the candle. If I had not jumped to it, I am sure he would have sung to himself as well.

My eyes teared to remember all the birthdays celebrated when his parents were together, the happy times he had known as a family of four and more. No matter tensions and struggles beyond his ken, his birthdays had all been holidays, his holidays celebrations of family, food and fireworks.
So much has changed for the boy. He has become a Man to his mother, a Pal to his Dad, playing adult roles in costumes that fit him so well, I forget his tender age. He works hard to balance his time between us, adapts to the shift with fortitude and good cheer. Only once has he expressed feeling “like a toy fought over by children.”

More often, I see the young man who stood at the precipice of our new life the first time to our apartment under construction with a gaping hole to the basement where a bathroom should be, saying, “Yeah, Dad, we can make this work.”

To my son, with all my love, and best wishes for many happy birthdays to come.
Please share with your friends


Laurie said...

Trying to feel your way through the fog is difficult. You seem to be doing a great job of it. It is not easy establishing new traditions when the old comfortable ones are no longer available. And throw the spontaneity of a teenage boy into the mix and you have the need for a parent to be understanding and flexible. You sound like you made it through the fog with grace.

It sounds like our children are about the same age. 16 and 19. I have been going through a similar mid-life crises. While I don't know what led to your divorce, my hub and I managed to not crack in the crucible and came through it stronger and more refined. Nevertheless, as we could have easily gone the other direction, I understand the mid-life crisis. I understand the unending yearning in your soul that will not identify itself.

Your young man seems to be an outstanding guy. Good job dad! :O)

Hayden Tompkins said...

Oh, wow, KIP!

First, that "ancient Peugeot" is probably a vintage, a classic. Do you know how much a new one is????

Secondly, the campfire party you threw him? The burgers and rootbeer and s'mores? The giant campfire?? He'll remember this party FONDLY when he gets older.

You melted my heart when you mentioned he asked you to get your guitar out.

When he asked for store bought sheetcake - those are the BEST. I feel like I know him, how weird is that?

Anyway, my parents were divorced much earlier than his were - but I can tell you that I was able to enjoy my parents much better when they were apart. You sound like you feel just a little guilty, or sad about it.

Don't worry about it. Just love him and be there for him (even if it means waiting in the background until he decides he wants you.) When I saw the video of you and your dad, it was clear to me that you so wanted his approval. Maybe you can't get it from him, but you can get it give it to your son... no matter how long his hair is or what he wears or decides to steady when he goes off to college. Keep your relationship about his emotional needs, no matter what.

It's just...I read a lot of love in that story.

persistentillusion said...

*decides to STUDY.


Pauline said...

Raising teens in a broken home is no easy task but it sounds like you're doing fine - your son still talks to you, doesn't mind being with you, isn't afraid to ask for what he wants and appears optimistic. Happy birthday to that good kid!

smith kaich jones said...

I think when he said yeah dad, this will work, he was right. It's working.

What a wonderful tale.
And happy belated birthday to your son.

:) Debi

enchantedartist said...

What a wonderful post this is...what a wonderful blog this is...(I was just peeking through your posts.)

It sounds like in spite of your situation...maybe even because of have such a strong, loving bond with your children. With one teenager now...and two up and coming...I find this very moving.

I also understand what you said about your home. I know many people look at their houses as a roof over them...or a way to get ahead...forgetting how much more they can be.

I also wanted to thank you for you kind words in regards to my artwork. I truly appreciate it...and I think I will look into getting some cards printed. I'll keep you posted. :)


Kip de Moll said...

Each of yours are a year older. It is so wonderful that you have remolded your marriage through the stresses. I'm working hard to not discuss publically the reasons for the disolution of mine, but with my parents example before me, I envy anyone who can make it work long term.

Hayden--I paid more for the refurbishing than for the original bike...and it's still not finished!
Well, maybe some day you'll get to meet the strapping guy. I'm thinking I'd love to do a blog on travelling the world meeting bloggers!

Pauline--I'm actually batting 1 for 2, but I'm not writing about that either. At this time, I'm just so pleased my son seems happy to spend time with his Dad.

thanks, Debi

Enchanted--thanks for stopping by. I'd think your paintings would make great cards, and you already have an etsy site. I'd buy some.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post again Kip :-) Kids have an amazing ability to adjust to situations, often better than adults do. They often have much to teach us I think :-)

jouette said...

he's adorable. we are lucky to be parents to these wise little beings. wonderful writing, i love reading you.

Del said...

I am glad I found your wonderfully written blog.
I have two grandchildren just starting to live in two seperate residences. I do know they will enjoy each parent more now too.Everyday they lived with fighting and a house without love.