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!

~

What Kind Of God Do You Have?

What kind of God do you have?

I have one who cares when I lament over
The burdens my friends bear,
And who shows me that
He is also big enough to hear my little prayer
That I find a figurine – a wedding cake topper –
In an antique store of
3 floors and 57,000 square feet.

How many millions of pieces are there
In a market that big?

And He not only says yes, but He
Leads me, as we talk about it all –
Friends and figurines –
To the third floor, to the
Locked cases, at the back end of the
Second hour scanning shelves,
To the
Very
Ceramic bride and groom that I
Had not bought in a thrift store in Michigan
Three days ago.
I don’t know why I didn’t buy those
Two dancing, happy people then,
But I see now that

These same two were waiting for me here,
Deep among the artifacts in
57,000 square feet of Alabama
Called Highway Pickers,
So He could show
Me that He hears me when I say His name,
That He enjoys my little ideas,
And that while I can marvel at
Fresh expressions of His love,
I shouldn’t be surprised at His character.
It’s just who He is.

That’s the kind of God I have.

Michigan Meanderings of an Alabama Girl

Lilacs. I now understand Walt Whitman enthralled with lilacs in the dooryard. May twenty second and lilacs are having their glory moment. Walt was right; lilacs seem delicate but are mastering.

Birches. Frost wrote about birches, and I get that too. Birches’ trunks are their song to the world rather than limb shape or leaf play. Ash-white trunks, black ribbed, these tall proud ladies nod slightly to the lake wind and continue their long obedience.

Firs. Fir stands are the densest of north wood settlers. Dark and thick, Tolkien and Lewis both would have loved a Michigan fir stand.  It is alive with Narnian sighs and Mirkwood warnings.

Trillium carpets and cherry blossoms and clean lake wind and lake gulls which must be different from sea gulls, having chosen the non-salt life, and a little red cabin in the woods on the big lake. I expect any moment to see Pa with his rifle and Ma in the dark, mistakenly petting a bear instead of their friendly heifer in the pen.

Audubon Bluff Trail. Black squirrels are startling when you are used to plain-Jane grays. White tail deer, fiddle-head ferns conferring together, mosses and sequoias, swamps and cattails, dunes and a tame lapping lake today, Poe’s Raven cawing and Longfellow’s Hiawatha haunting. Michigan, I can’t figure out what you are!  But your motley is most beautiful. And oh all the poets, gone but still living, who breathe their cool observations and immortal words to inform my enjoyment. What an extra rich layer of pleasure to know they too stood in green, green woods glimpsing blue water and it came out as a song.

It’s hard to know whether to look inland or water-ward.

The lake’s the thing, Hamlet might have said, the vast breathing personality that draws the eye and clears the mind of all lesser things. The lake forces big questions: “Reckon with me,” it says. “If I am, then there must be something even bigger and deeper and bluer and colder and gustier and livelier and lovelier.”

Yes, it all leads to doxology.

       

      

           

           

Miscellaneous May And Her Musings

May is the last box on the
Moving truck, filled with
Odd shaped leftovers and
The urgency of making them all fit.

May looks up August’s aspirations,
And finds they came up short. So
May fills the gap with ten thousand school
Details for each of her thirty one days.

May removes barcode stickers from 80
Wedding candles, gashing her fingers and
Pronouncing imprecative curses on
All sticker-attachers, everywhere.

May proctors SAT tests and boggles that
One stray fleck of lead located outside a bubble
Threatens to foul the scoring machine and
Bring down an entire school district.

May rewrites Joan Jett’s 1981 classic, “I love
Empty nest . . .” but reflects that she has only
Experienced two total weeks of it, so she
Suspects it’s a hoax to keep parents going.

May loads up her college boy’s dorm room, on a
Belz Hall slope, doubting they can do it, and learns
From his happy priorities and his friends’ nimble help,
That things just work out when you’re young.
      

May puzzles when a friend declares that she gets
Two meals out of a loaded baked potato from Johnny’s.
That would require stopping halfway.
And May knows that doesn’t exist.

May chuckles that one of her Yankee friends
Wore a llama sweater to his daughter’s recent
Wedding. Oh, to hear his thought process, “Hmmm,
Yes, this llama sweater hits just the right note.”

May learns to manage her webpage, and
Discovers Command Z. Mashed simultaneously,
Command and Z erase all blunders and
Take you back where you started. Muy theological.

From which May meanders to Heidelberg Catechism,
Answer 60 which exults that I can be “as if I’d never
Sinned, nor been a sinner, as if I’d been as perfectly
Obedient as Christ was obedient for me”!

May is a child’s purse filled with stickers and gum,
And the broken shoulder strap and a castoff cell phone,
And a little orange New Testament and tooth fairy quarters,
A magic rock and three green apple Jolly Ranchers.

~

https://www.rca.org/resources/heidelbergcatechism

I Went To Walmart In My Pajamas

Saturday night, 9:30 pm, and I was pajamaed and tucked in.  The preacher discovered he needed certain items for early on his Sabbath morning, so I rolled out of bed and fired up the Fiat. My strategy was military and precise: park down at the pharmacy entrance, dart in and grab the item, whiz through the ’20 items or less’ check out, and be halfway home before the security camera turned my way. Textbook. However, I found myself caught in the crossfire of the age-old clash between two women and slowed down to thoroughly enjoy it.

Clubber was standing in the ’20 item’ line in a black eyelet shorts-romper and those hybrid boot/stiletto/lace up shoes. Nails did, hair thick, straight, and blond, her success at the club was guaranteed. All she needed, all she needed, to blow the roof off the club, was a little more mascara. So there she stood at register 22, simply trying to buy one pack of mascara.

The customers in front of her had a tab of $208 which is certainly possible with only 20 items, but perhaps we can forgive Clubber’s visibly rising temper a little because there were probably more than 20 items in their buggy. And they were leisurely debating the last item with the clerk – was this little watermelon organic or regular? Clubber tossed her keys and mascara on the belt in audible frustration.

The Clerk, salt of the earth in her blue Walmart vest and having all her competitive woman buttons pushed by this bombshell, was taking her sweet time, speculating on the watermelon with the idle clerk at the next register. This was her moment; she was in charge.

Idle Clerk, to make her point and twist the knife, looked at me and said sweetly, “I can take you on my register.” Clubber saw red. I looked at Clubber and said, “Go ahead,” which she did with a huff and not a whiff of a thank you. Remember though what I looked like in my pajamas and ratty bun. I wasn’t even on her radar as a person, which was fair enough.

We both transacted our business, Clubber lurching out of the Walmart first on those hybrid, tilt-forward shoes, and Idle Clerk said to me with a ‘hoooeee’ eyeroll, “I am sorry about that. I was talking to YOU not HER.”

As it turned out, Clubber was parked right next to me and was sitting in her Focus applying her beleaguered mascara. Somehow I expected her to be driving something other than a Focus, which would probably gratify her to know.

Discussion Questions:
How did my being in pajamas affect or determine my place in this skirmish?

Why was I so willing to get out of bed and go to Walmart? Why didn’t I send the preacher for his own stuff?

Why do women wear those hideous shoes?

Did Clubber really believe that anyone in the club would notice her mascara?

Were the customers in front of Clubber with the $208 bill aware of the undercurrents between Clerk and Clubber and purposely delaying just to see the fireworks? Were they complicit?

Why was Clubber so eager to get to the club? Who was going to be there? What important outcome depended upon her mascaraed presence this particular evening?

Was the little watermelon organic or not??

Clerk and Clubber were not competing for the same man, so explain the visceral clash between them.

How did the presence of Idle Clerk exacerbate the situation?

Should I be discouraged by the fact that I was clearly pushing neither clerk’s competitive woman buttons?  They liked me.

Why was I surprised to see Clubber in a Focus?