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.


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.

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.

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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.

Two-Baby Sunday

I held two babies on a recent Sunday.

They were both under three months old – tiny, exquisite, perfect.

One was all things brown. He was velvet, melted chocolate, hot cocoa. His eyes were coffee no cream and bottomless. One thick inch of soft curled hair capped his head, and his expression was classic opinionated-old-man-at-the-barbershop. He took in the cacophony of women at a baby shower, never squirming or protesting, while his attentive mother allowed him to be passed around over a slate floor, too gracious to shriek like her hormones urged her to. I rocked him in my arms and wondered if he was thinking, “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you just look different somehow from my Mama.”

The other baby was milk white, fine flax hair stood straight up, her eyes like jewels. Her young father and tender mother were both still riding the overwhelming awe of it and were weak with love. She wiggled in my arms and made the little irresistible noises that mute all other sound and shelve all other worries. What can I do for you, Baby? What do you need?

No surprise to my own children, I held each baby and marveled that any sane person could believe there is no God. And not just a God, but one who smiles and enjoys Himself. He knit both babies in their mothers’ wombs, and He delighted in the curls and the flax and the cream and the cocoa.

Explain it how you will: there is a God, and He is the happiest Artist.

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“Your way, O God, is holy.  What God is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders.”
Psalm 77: 13,14


A Time for Aprons

If you are a man don’t waste your time reading this.  It will mean nothing to you.

Just go about your blessedly even-keeled day changing the oil in your truck, or removing someone’s inflamed appendix, or running a half-marathon on a whim.  You’ve been warned.

Now that it’s just the rest of us, I have a question. Can someone diagnose an ailment for me?

Let me first clarify that I am not complaining.  I am happy.  I am content.  I am blessed beyond anything I deserve.  I have heaven ahead of me, and a world of good things now.  However.  I am also alternately a brooding misanthrope or a fanged monster.  You wouldn’t know it to look at me.  But trust me.  Behind my eyes sometimes shrieks the sentence “What if I told you what I was really thinking???”

Here’s an example.  This evening after a dinner of braised chicken (I just looked up ‘braised’ and I was in the ballpark), herb and mushroom risotto, green beans picked and snapped by me, and a sassy little French baguette, child number three whistles out the back door with an “I’ll be back.”  A few minutes later, child number two, a girl, also whistles out the back door with an “I’ll be back.”  Now, let me describe the kitchen.  If I squinted, it was an impressionist painting, all oozing colors and splotches and shapes.  If I focused, it was a tall sculpture in stainless steel and ceramic, avant-garde in its inclusion of viscous, dripping substances, even addressing olfactory senses like art rarely does.  I leaned on the sink (allow me to be dramatic here) and thought dark thoughts about that movie, “12 Years a Slave.”  I wondered what would happen if I just took off my floral flour-sack apron, and left it all tilted and teetering and crusted and greasy.  What if I just didn’t do the dishes?  Would the sun rise in the west tomorrow, if it rose at all?  Would rivers flow uphill?

Some of you, like my mother for instance, are asking the obvious, “Why don’t you get the kids to help before they leave?”  While seemingly self-evident, that question reveals inexperience with teenagers and college students.  The 16 – 22 year old has two modes:  Gone or Sick.  They are only not gone if they are sick.  They aren’t faking it either.  They really are sick.  They get sick because they are always gone.  They leave for college and don’t sleep for an entire semester.  Then they come home and die for two weeks.  Then it’s time to go back for round two.  Or they arrive home smelly and sunburned from youth beach conference, drop their laundry and explain that they need to leave immediately because . . .  I phase out on their life-or-death reasons, but they usually end with, ‘We may never see him again, Mom.’  So, no, they literally can’t do the dishes.

I digress.  I decided it was probably time for my regular – every other decade – appointment with the stirrups (you were warned!).  The soonest appointment is two months from now.  Not bad relatively speaking, and yes, I have read the recently circulating article about a doctor’s daily life of hunger, thirst, stress, and worry, and I believe it.  I go to church with many doctors.  They do have my sympathy.  I realize that there is one of them per several thousand of us.  But flip that around.  They may have thousands of me, but I only have one of them.  One.  And, doc, when I need you, I need you!  Look at my record.  I only call every other decade.  And do you really want me loose on the world for two more months like this, with your name on my “who is your attending physician” line?  I can spell your name down to apostrophes, hyphens, and umlauts.

Ahhh.  Well.  Maybe this is the ‘m-word.’  I asked a friend if she thought it was and she shushed me roundly, saying she wasn’t going there.  Shush away, but I don’t think we get to choose.  Time and gravity and chemistry force us there, ready or not.  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” says the preacher.  How pragmatic and man-like.  No angst, no kicking at the goads, no keening sentimentality, just peaceful acceptance: “Oh, the m-word.  Yes, I suppose it is time for that.”

May that same peace breathe through the back door, down the halls into the bedrooms of the sleeping children, past the couch and the reading husband, and all over me – m-word or not – happy and aproned in the impressionist kitchen.