Mom’s Guide To Raising Sons: The Motorcycle Chapter

He’s 19 and he bought a Ducati.

A few of my friends, fellow mothers, tilt their heads and eyeball me and ask, “So how are you with that?” They seem to really want to know.

I have heard the many nicknames for motorcycles, including “Donor Sled,” a term coined by ER docs.  I’ve also been dragged to motorcycle shops by the enthusiasts in my family and (true story) had the proprietor crutch out with his leg in a cast and his arm not only in a cast but propped up on a 45-degree-angle, hip-to-elbow pole contraption. He proudly told us he had broken his femur in thirteen places and then turned to the happy and obvious task of selling us a bike. I was the only one in the showroom feeling the irony. So I left and went to an antique store with my mother in law.  No one’s ever been killed by a milk glass compote dish.

But.

Any thoughtful mother of a boy knows that nine-tenths of her job is backing up and praying. The other tenth is table manners.

So, when he tells you he’s buying a motorcycle, and you flash over the hospital horror stories and maimings and utter road pizzas you have read about, you have to make your lips say something you really don’t mean: “Son, that’s great! Ducatis are awesome.”

And then you quietly walk to the garage and you lay your hand on that bike, and you pray.  I prayed that angels would anoint the Duke with their permanent presence and blessing, that it would be an ever-visible bike, and its driver would be as savvy and prepared as a Boy Scout. That it would never leave our garage without a host, an angelic army, before and behind. And after praying, I rest in the knowledge that my prayers don’t evaporate, but are an effective conversation with the God of this universe. He hears and remembers.

My own ears have become fine-tuned instruments, cupped for the sound of the bike on its way home after a day at the work site or the twilight exhilaration of the cool pockets and mosquito slaps of a summer road. I can be sewing, cooking, studying, hostessing, or attempting sleep, and my ears are independently turning like an antenna seeking a satellite.  And although I am oblivious to the sounds of the car I drive throwing a rod, or jake breaks on the interstate ratcheting down, I can hear the cycle from a good half mile, turning off 31 on to Woodland Street, and then every neuron I possess goes soggy as a zinnia stem the morning after the dinner party.

Are there positives to the son purchasing a powerful, unprotective rocket? He is a man striding in with the freedom of a man. That’s the whole point of my neuron exhaustion, anyway, plus it makes me really happy. Surely some fine motor skills are being developed like balance and dexterity and coordination and intuitive bike IQ. Maybe some mechanical-tinkering know-how. You know, those guys.  Physics, algebra, principles of internal combustion? Or maybe none of that, but a whole lot of joy. Either way, I will look like that zinnia.

I age a little bit every time the popping, chesty rumble ignites in the garage. And I just pray for stamina to make it until someday when he is married and his wife is expecting their first child and the Duke has to be sold for diaper money.

That’s how I’m doing with it.

Ode To A Different Kind Of July

Usually this month, I am weeping the
Teacher’s Lament
Late-July tears over the weight
Of an entire school year looming
Plus my own kids’ growings and
Goings. I think if I dig my
Heels into the floor, could I stop the
Rotation of the Earth?

But not this July!
(Insert emojis of me
Cha-cha-ing in a pancho and
Sombrero) I hung up my
School teacher shoes and
Opened an Airbnb in our modest
Little Rancher. And now . . .

For two-plus decades I haven’t
Dabbled.
I’ve grappled.
I’ve been in the life-or-death
Grapple of time versus
Children versus budget versus
Ought versus keen love versus school calendar
Versus me.

But now I can Dabble.
Today, for instance, I
Opened a bag of quilt blocks
Purchased at an antique store in
Swannanoa, North Carolina.

A few minutes studying the blocks
Laid out on our bed showed me
That my new task was
Metaphorical.
The ‘how’ and the
‘When’
Are the same:

Around the Edges.

I sew around the edges of life,
Around the edges of running a life –
Inn-keeping, Mama-loving, ACT Prepping –
And
I sew around the edges of
The pot and stem and three
Hexagonal flowers designed,
But never finished,
By an Appalachian mystery woman.

Big muslin block
By big muslin block,
They tell her tale:

Auntie prepared them.
To be sewn around the edges.
And then, for some reason,
She abandoned her careful
Design and tiny stitches and
Lovely colors of hope and
Symmetry, of yellow calico pots
And funfetti flowers.
She just quit.
And of course we knew why,
The way of all flesh. The world lost
A quilt when she died.

A niece took a stab
In one block at
Carrying on Auntie’s vision.
But she was impulsive,
A Facebook scroller.
She didn’t notice
Details.
She didn’t see that Auntie’s top
Flower was solid
With a busy-print center.
And the two lower blooms
Were
Opposite –
Busy-print with a solid center.
She didn’t notice, you see.
She was in a hurry.

So I will notice. I will notice,
In the blocks, Niecey
Not noticing. And I will notice
The importance of noticing.
But I will fail too. I will not notice
Auntie’s green thread and will
Laboriously stitch with white.

Are Niecey’s deviations
And mine part of the final quilt’s
Grand story of three women and their
Artistic and contextual convergences?
‘Psshh,’
Says Auntie from
The sewing corner, the
One light corner, of her home in the
Pisgah, ‘Look at it. Get it right!’

So I will learn an appliqué stitch,
Via YouTube,
And will stitch more big
Muslin blocks of stems and
Hexagonal flowers. I will
Slow
Down
And notice Auntie’s stitches and
Plans.
And I will
Honor them. It will seem
Unimportant,
But it will be a song crafted
With a needle, as all quilts are:
‘Death, where is your sting?’

And when Auntie’s work is finished,
I will put it on our bed, our big
Happy, empty-nest, inn-keeping
Mama-loving, July-singing
Bed.

Moments At An Alabama Wedding

*** Warning:  This is sappy; I can’t help it; sappy is occasionally necessary.

A – Alabama. Yes, just Alabama. I love everything about this place on God’s earth. The slant of evening sunset tucking under the beams of the Festhalle, mimosa misting all the green with its garnet brushes, the solemn vesper hush of the ceremony, magnolias on the long banquet tables, Billy Atchison greeting our out-of-town guests with a heart-felt desire that they all feel welcome, Round 2 playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man, the evening feel of cool sweat and a party dress. When I walk home, this is where my feet go.

B – Beth Ann’s Box. My friend Beth Ann sent a box that would serve as assistant to Adrienne and to me since Beth Ann herself could not be here. It contained bobby pins, safety pins, tissue packs, bandaids, sewing kit, a kit “to occupy that difficult relative with a decorate-the-mason-jar task”, gum, chapstick, tea, little notes of encouragement, and a letter that contained the lyrics to Sunrise, Sunset which undid me.

C – Cocktail napkins. We ran out of water bottles, but by golly we had cocktail napkins. 1000 dove gray cocktail napkins. We’ll be chipping away at those for some time to come.

D – Dinner Plates. We were glad we bought 9-inch ones instead of 10. I think we eked out 30 more plates of food. Win!

E – Estrogen. Our house was bridesmaid-central and estrogen soaked . Every maid needed loving on through cramps, hunger, sore feet, pink eye, torn dress, nerves, bouquet making, chalkboard painting, singing, laughing, dress steaming, brow plucking, nail painting, cross-cultural experiences, accessorizing, dancing, crashing, and sleeping. They brought so much joy to the house.

F – Friends!!! I could not have done this without my friends. Jessi, Nancy, Denise, and Janice, take a bow!

G – Grandmothers. The best toasts of the rehearsal dinner came from the four grandmothers. Love, humor, wisdom, scripture, their words showed the heritage of faith and deep rich soil this couple came from and now carries.

H – Happy Groom. His face as he said his vows was one of those primary life moments I had to both look at and look away from in respect.

I – Invitations. Thinking we were cleverly saving money, we had the RSVP information printed on the back of the invitation. No one looks at the back of an invitation. Which meant we were flying on a wing and a prayer when we gave the reception caterer the number of plates we needed. Lesson: Spring for the cost of the separate RSVP card. 🙂

J – Jet Lag. Four days after the wedding I am suffering from jet lag and postpartum (not exactly) depression (but definitely a re-living of all of mothering this child in one big flood). “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2.

K – Kittens. The best parlor trick ever. We have two, and at the after-party, they were the hit. From groomsmen to toddlers to patriarchs to dear sisters to college roommates, we never knew who would stroll through with a kitten in the crook of the arm. The kittens were the common denominator that held the party together. Update: One kitten has gone walkabout. Will is trying to forgive us for being ironclad outdoor pet people.

L – Laughter.  My siblings and I gathered at my dad’s gravesite on Father’s Day, the day after the wedding, and placed Eliza’s maid-of-honor bouquet on his grave.  And we laughed together. As my sister-in-law said, when the grave holds no fear, there is joy in being together.

M – Mom. She put her hand on my back while Adrienne walked down the aisle and I cried.

N – Nieces and Nephews. These awesome people, young and younger, fill all the gaps. Calling it the wedding in cullmanalabama, they danced with skirt-swirling abandon and visions of sugar plums; they brought their smiles, hugs, and eagerness (Evelyn!); they ran impossible errands like the nephew who forever claimed my heart by bravely entering the seething world of the bridesmaids’ room to unearth a particular purse needed desperately and to present it within two minutes. That, my friends, is impressive. #michaelduboseismyhero

O – Odds and Ends. Cake knife, candle lighter, airport run, cups, ice, thank yous, half and half. These things kept me up at night and these were the very things God provided in the sweetest of ways and with His palpable smile.

P – Parenting That Never Ends. Our newly-married daughter dashed with her man through rows of sparklers and cheering family to the car chauffeured by her brother that would whisk them off to this new thing called husband and wife. Adults, they were. As she got into the back of the car Andrew and I simultaneously leaned forward because the train of her gown was about to get caught in the door: here, let me help, I’ll just go with you and hold it, OK??

Q – Quiet Moment. After the reception dancing and the cleanup, I limped home barefoot, sweaty, still in the party dress. Knowing I probably shouldn’t, I walked down to her bedroom and saw her dress flung across the bed and her gray suede sandals tipped over in a hasty, hand-holding run toward the honeymoon. I realized that this thing really happened. And it will be good – it already is, judging by the new family I inherit by virtue of her vows – but, like taking them to kindergarten or summer camp, it does take getting used to.

R – Red Pick-Up Truck. A serendipitous addition to the reception decor, the bed of Rachael and Kent’s 1971 Ford became our drink station. Alabama married New York, after all.

S – Social Media. On social media today, I see the word ‘wife’ and I see a different last name, like a whole different person, which in a way I guess it is. Once again, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, what exactly has happened here? Life is a big deal. Marrying off a daughter is as heart-squeezing as having her in the first place.

T – Trains. Small town life at its finest is the moment when the train roars through and everyone celebrating in the Festhalle alongside the old depot cheers the conductor on his northbound way. (Maybe it’s all computers now, but I like to think a conductor was waving back.)

U – Ushers and Groomsmen. The backbone of the wedding, these young men set up and took down and in between they were gentlemen. Yes, I do too know them, and I still say gentlemen.

V – Vases of Flowers. Oh, the flowers. I never knew. Curly willow, larkspur, orchids, seeded eucalyptus, the names themselves begin the enchanting thing that flowers do. Kim and Kelly guided the whole flower endeavor and taught us all how to let the flowers tell us where they need to go. I am a believer.

W – Water. Well, we ran out. Lesson: For outdoor receptions, however much water you think you need, triple it. And then throw in two more cases for good measure. Thank you, Jay, for a mid-reception Walmart run.

X – Xavier.  High school the groom and his brother graduated from. I needed an X. They captioned their picture: “On the bus going to Jonathan’s graduation.” The ceremony took place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue in NYC.  Much as I love cullmanalabama, I have to admit, that reaches a level of cool we just don’t have. A bus to graduation?!? A bus, period?!?

Y – Yonder.  Where everyone came from, where the bride and groom went on honeymoon, where they might live, where I need to return borrowed cake plates, coolers, candles, and cloths.

Z – BelZes, BelZes everywhere. In desperation I Googled ‘Max Belz Family Tree.’ While there was much mention of him, I was on my own in terms of filling in all the branches and leaves and sprouting sprouts of this flourishing tree. I am reading Jean Belz’s Tell Someone Your Story and am finding in her a friend and kindred spirit in every essay. So it was meaningful to me to meet so many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and if my mental tree-chart is accurate, perhaps even a great-great or two.

To God be the glory!

~

Getting Merried

In June, our daughter and her love will be
Merried! We attendants will merry them as they
Promise to
Merry each other
‘Til death does them part.

As busy as I’ve been, working toward the merry day,
It wasn’t real to me until my friends
Gave a tea and
Made it so –

Sabbath afternoon, when mind and body
Long only for green pastures and still waters,
My church sisters,
In high heels,
Decorated and celebrated my daughter’s
Merriment.
With me. For us.

I’ve been to teas and showers, and the
Stuff on the tables is fascinating
In the abstract.
Oh, what a beautiful painting by Anna.

But these things, this painting,
This towel, were for my daughter
(six-weeks-old in her pink onesie, surely)
In her St. Elmo home.
With her husband. Her husband.

It’s very different.

The groom’s grandmother Mary,
While carrying a table, asked
‘Could I be part of the second load going home?’
Adding even more muscle and sacrifice.

There is nothing fragile about tea-givers;
They are giving life
More than I ever understood
Until my own child was the merried one.

My friends. They make me merry.  ~

           
Tea-givers                                                             A guest of honor

              
Lovely touches

 

 

Milk Chocolate

Rest my head on the knee
Of the One I kneel before,

Say Lord, look at that ‘fridge,
A collage of invitations –
Weddings, teas, baby showers –
Pastel hint of life’s
Naked, raw, and fervent moments,
Bloody shouts and the heart’s vows.

Jennifer called today and said
Martha died.
Oh. Remember her laughter at the
Candy-making parties?

Then again, the Lunsfords are in
Ethiopia
Getting Jake, their
Covenant child!
A five year faith-wait.

But it’s also Sean’s
Cross-the-Jordan anniversary.

And then some sweet friends who
Love Jesus share chips and salsa with us and
Ache over their
Church because they had
Invested, Lord, invested, in that
Little flock of sheep, who
Rode them hard
And hurt them.
Now they are peeking over
At Grace! And, oh, they need healing.

And tonight we sang happy birthday to
My little Mama.

This life, Lord, this life,
Is a bittersweet tale where the
Sweet carries the bitter and the bitter
Tempers the sweet, and the end is as
Perfect as milk chocolate on the tongue.

img_2708
Caroline and Jake, January 14, 2017
~

How I Love Him!

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One day
Long ago
On a one-lane
Wooden bridge over
Railroad tracks,
Near McGriff Tire,
We sat in our
Plymouth Voyager,
White with wood panels.

Will was a baby and when the
Train came underneath us
And the world tottered with the
Roar and fumes and horn blast,
He screamed the terror of the
Helpless.
Instead of unbuckling him, I crouched
Over him and he clutched me in a
Grip and buried his face
(How I love him!) in my
Neck.
His breath condensed on my blue
Shirt into a big wet spill.
And he hung on.

When I do that to
My Heavenly Father,
Who is also the God of this whole Universe,
He always answers with
More
Comfort,
Protection,
Affection,
Than I asked for.

How I love Him!

To Honk Or Not To Honk: A Parenting Victory

Looking back over the years, as I am doing right now from a newly empty nest, I had one intuitive parenting victory that I want to share with you who still have your kids at home so that down the road you too can rejoice and not kick yourself:

I did not honk my horn at my children. 

I get that some people are honkers; for them an aggressive laying on the horn is just a great communication tool, and they’d be surprised anyone thought any deeper about it. But for the rest of us . . .

Sunday morning. The girls were off to college, only the boy was at home, and because his bones grew an inch a month, or so it seemed, he slept like the dead. And even deader on Sundays. He seemed to understand it was the day of Sabbath rest.

He didn’t really ‘wake up’ as much as slowly surface, like a log released from a river bottom. All that rapid bone growth required hot abundant protein in the morning – like eggs and cheese and bacon. But he only had time to grab a granola bar along with his tie, belt, socks, and shoes, all to be put on in the car.

Six feet, three inches plus his hair, folded in half, and accessorizing in a Fiat.  I rode to church with Mr. Bean.

I assume he grabbed the granola bar; I never saw him do so because I was always sitting in the car by that time waiting, and that is the point of my story. I like to get to church early, especially if I am teaching a Sunday school class. I talk to a lot of people on Sundays, and my nerves just need my ducks in a row.

Anyway, I waited, chomping at the bit, and every Sunday I had to make a choice while sitting in the Fiat. To honk or not to honk, that was the question. He was inside feeling no sense of urgency whatsoever, and my legs were both cramped from holding down the clutch and the brake in first gear, ready to go. And I waited, and the back door never opened. Whether t’was nobler in mind to wait it out or honk the heck out of the horn, aye, there’s the rub.

Preaching to myself, I would say, “Just be patient. Honking is rude and dehumanizing. Civilized people get out, go in, and say mildly, ‘Are you coming?’” But once buckled in to the AC’d car, I wasn’t getting back out, civilized or no, so I would decide I had every good reason to honk and reach my hand to do it, and then decide not to, and Civilized and Uncivilized would war for awhile before the back door would finally slam and he would appear, grinning and at peace with the world. And I was always glad I hadn’t honked.

But I was never so glad I hadn’t honked as I was the first Sunday he was off to college and I walked out the door, got in the car, backed out, and drove to church. Oh the sad, sad, convenience of it all. Oh, the untethered, unwanted earliness. Woohoo, I didn’t have to wait! Boohoo, I wished I had to wait! And as I mourned freely all the way to church I comforted myself knowing that I had not honked my horn at him. At least I had that.

DSCN6081 DSCN6078

 

DSCN6082Sincerely,
A Mom In Transition

P.S. (One week later – wearing huge photo-booth party glasses and popping a confetti cannon) Empty nest is fun!!  “Limbo, limbo, limbo, cha-cha, limbo . . .”

P.P.S. I read a recent good article urging us to be careful writing about our children.  I used care with this and meant to spotlight my retrospective relief rather than the college boy’s foibles.  Some context was necessary.