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.

So, What Happened With The Squirrel?

A story needs its climax, or it isn’t a story.  It’s a tell-about or a ramble or a flat-line, unsatisfying at best, provoking at worst.

Here is the climax to the epic of the squirrel on the back porch.

I did not actually “go in” when I said I was.  I chickened out.  Something about climbing the ladder and being at eye level with an unpredictable, strong-willed, female animal, no matter the size, completely cowed me.  Plus the possibility of encountering some soggy babies, pink, mewling, and blind, made me retract like a turtle.  If a woman can be said to be unmanned, I was.

Who knows where ideas come from, especially simple, self-evident ones.  But I remembered at that moment that I have an 18-year-old son.   Isn’t rat-removal what sons are for??  Isn’t rat-removal a small thing to ask after, well, everything starting with morning sickness up ‘til the most recent load of post-soccer-practice laundry? Soccer practice being the reason he wasn’t home at the moment, I had to wait until the next morning on the way to school to officially commission him.

“Soldier,” I said, “Take that hill!”

And I decamped to my bivouac to watch the progress via binoculars.

Out he strode that afternoon to do battle, cheerful and willing, but hurrying because he and his mates were on the way to Taco Bell to get one of those new concoctions said to be bigger than the internet.  He wore his welding goggles and gloves.  A squirrel sat out in the yard up on her haunches, watching, pretending to eat a left-over pecan.  Was it her?  Our squirrel? Was it her henchwoman and spy?  Was our squirrel even now in the nest, awaiting the first nestquake, claws at the ready?

The hungry, Taco Bell-bound warrior on the ladder knocked twice on the beam, scooped up two loads of pine straw and my shredded chair cushions, deposited them in the herb garden, and cantered off to Tex-Mex heaven.

So, no, no rabid attack, no soggy babies, just me in the anticlimax realizing that it is perfectly ok to devolve unpleasant tasks onto one of the kids and lose none of my self-respect.


One Day In The Life Of Ivan TheSeniorBoy

DSCN5027School’s cancelled?!?  I love the universe.

  • What do you mean school’s not cancelled?
  • I can get ready in 10 minutes.
  • But it will actually take me 70 minutes because I’ll need to stand in the middle of my room and stare for a while.
  • I’ll just wear my Avengers t-shirt.
  • The best YouTube videos are the ones where people crash or fall.
  • The highest loyalty is to the band of brothers.  The code is uncomplicated – good is good, bad is bad, we have each other’s back and take one for the team. Easy.
  • Aside from that, everything else is fairly mellow and not urgent.
  • Except don’t talk to me while I am watching football.
  • Girls?  They are basically a pleasant mystery. And they cry a lot.  Just hug them and eventually they stop.
  • What makes me cry? The clip of Auburn winning the Iron Bowl.  It never gets old.
  • As long as there is a loaf or two of French bread around, I’m good.
  • Yoohoos are the champagne of canned beverages.
  • Adults make way too big a deal of things.  Just say, “Clean it up!” and move on.  This isn’t a character issue.
  • Away games are awesome!
  • And for my birthday they stuck my head in the toilet and flushed and I fought so hard we broke the door.  It was great!
  • Of course I forgot it was Freestyle Friday.  I try not to think in the morning.
  • About to start my Trig, just checking ESPN.  The only one worse than me at Fantasy Football is Randy Hogue and that’s because he lost his password and can’t play.
  • I’m not cold.
  • Bye, Mom.  Love you.