…”What did you see, my blue-eyed son, what did you see, my darling young one? I saw a newborn baby with wolves all around it…” -Bob Dylan
Good afternoon, friends! Yes, it’s 1:06, and yes, I have popped open a beverage. Don’t judge me. If a piece of your heart just drove away in a loaded, unwieldy moving van, I wouldn’t judge you. Unless you chose a drink unworthy of your sorrow, but there’s too many of those to name. I assure you, mine is up to the job, the name of which is “Smuggler.” A silky-sweet imperial stout put out by the Nashville brewery Bearded Iris, a lovely place which now employs our eldest son in its production. He’s gone from making stellar cider to stellar beer, which, besides music, was his goal.
Nashville. Such a vibrant city that has remained so, in spite of last year: a destructive hurricane, a beast called Covid, and a bombing that took out a good portion of downtown. Ya gotta admire that resilience, as well as being jammed-with-talent, fun, and every kind of quality music you can imagine. Now it’s claiming our younger son too. Not for musical purposes, although like his brother he has a fine voice. No, this is about forging a new path. A new job, apartment, co-workers, the whole shebang, and though it pains me to say it, a new home. Let me tell you, it’s been one hard-earned journey.
I’ve written numerous times before about Danny’s previous academic struggles, as many of you well know. When I think back, I’m not sure how we even made it through. I feel like I was like that Facebook meme that shows the bedraggled chicken missing feathers. She’s got a broken beak, with one eye up and another down, and the caption reads, “I’m doing fine. How about you?” It really was like that, a lot of the time. Dreading a school or teacher email, a conference full of “if only Danny would ______,” (pay attention, FOCUS, be organized, stop talking, being silly, turn IN WORK, the list of fill-in-the-blank options interminable). I’ve been there, done that, and have no wish to re-hash. I guess I’m recalling it now, in a weak attempt to justify why letting go is so tricky.
Because it’s hard to retire the mama bear’s claws, isn’t it? In addition to swigging potions at an unreasonable hour, I’ve been listening to music, my other therapy. Enter Bob Dylan. Now, I admit I don’t like listening to Bob sing. At all. However, I do like other people covering his songs. Two of the members of Walk off the Earth do an incredible job with “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” of which the lyrics are shown here. You-tube it and listen. Word has it that Bob wrote the song about the threat of war between Russia and the US back in the day, but like all excellent songwriting, the lyrics are wide open for interpretation. For me, when I hear, “I’ve stepped on the side of twelve misty mountains, I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways, I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests…” I actually picture myself doing those things to pull my kid out of the quicksand mud that was school.
Take the words above, “What did you see, my blue-eyed son, what did you see, my darling young one? For I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it.” When I hear that, I see myself standing in front of him, a vulnerable child, a mere seven year old thinking he’s already failed, and I’m snarling at all those arrogant authority figures who have made him think that way. Whose thoughtless words and actions I wanted to chew up and spit back at them. I know it sounds ridiculously melodramatic, but if you haven’t experienced it, you can’t imagine what it’s like. And not just once, but for years. He and I have talked about this, about how it could have been different if I’d have homeschooled him. Today, particularly in the current climate, I would do it. Protests or not. But as in all of life, there are always trade-offs. One of them would’ve been that he wouldn’t have formed the strong bond he had with his best friend, Mat.
Ah, yes, Mat. Sweet, funny, deeply loyal. Much like Danny himself. They were life rafts for each other in the shitstorm that is the existence for kids that “need help”, as evidenced by one asshat teacher. This fu@#stick actually announced in front of the class, “Here’s the Chapter five test for you guys. Oh, except for you, Danny, and Mat. Here are your exams. Do you need Mrs. Shuler to read them to you?” I wish I could say this was an exaggeration, but it wasn’t. That MF-er is lucky I didn’t murder him. In fact, my ears are turning red just thinking of it, so perhaps a big drag of Smuggler is in order to cool off.
As I’ve detailed before in other pieces, from almost the minute their lives were released from that educational jail, the chains came slamming back from the weight of loss. Mat was killed in a car accident a month before turning twenty-one, and I watched helplessly as my son grappled with this senseless blow. Again, I had to reign in the instinct to run in and rescue. Friendships hadn’t come easily to him, and I fretted at the magnitude of this gap. In the end I had to trust. To trust he possessed the fortitude to heal and go forth in a way Mat would be proud. To trust that God had his back. And you know what? He did it. He showed up, partially by getting his own place and by working hard at his job. To the average snob, stocking grocery store shelves for six years and not asking his parents for money might not seem like much, but he was determined not to be a failure-to-launch stoner in his high school home’s basement. By avoiding that fate he already exceeded what I’m sure many of him teachers predicted for him.
When his supervisors declined to give him a shot at management with no reasonable explanation, other than vague excuses anyone could see through, I felt that warrior in me momentarily surface. “I should go in there and give them a what-for!” I growled at the dinner table. “Is this how you reward years of an employee’s dedicated service, no calling in sick, working crazy hours? Those SOB’s!” He looked at me as though I’d grown a third eye. Of course, I wasn’t serious. But don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.
In truth, I was secretly relieved. I thought if he’d gotten a promotion he’d probably get stuck here, in a job and geographical area that isn’t exactly bursting with young people ready to socialize. I mean, it happens all the time. Hope and promise become a distant memory, as “lifers” dutifully clock in and out because they were too scared to take a leap of faith years before. When Danny applied and was hired for a job as a Dr. Pepper distributor in Nashville, we were all excited. Here’s a chance. An opportunity to go where there’s no preconceptions, nobody he has a history with, and….far from the clutches of this clucking mother hen. It’s the normal order of development. Roots and wings and all that. Logic dictates it. But I literally could not help myself when I asked his brother if he would ‘drive him around” when he first arrived in town. Sean gave me the third eye look and said, “Um, what do you mean? He’s twenty-six.” I laughed and said, “yes, I know, but he is still used to small-town stoplights, and these people are the most unhinged drivers on the planet here.” (Which, I’m sorry, is true). He just shook his head and probably thought Danny wasn’t getting out of Michigan fast enough.
He doesn’t know yet. Heck, neither of them do. About with the coming of a baby, comes the forever wearing your heart on your sleeve part, and the constant worry. The worry simply changes along with the offspring. From choking, to when will he talk, to when will he stop talking, to will he meet a nice girl, to college or not, to setting out on their own and the hundreds of ways those choices can implode. Add that in with a child who won’t “fit in the box” (nor would I force him in). Can you blame me for my hovering?
Well, I suppose you can, because overprotectiveness does have the potential to go off the rails. I don’t write this post as an attempt to win “Attagirl!” comments. In the name of all that is Holy, do not tell me how fantastic of a mom I am. I’m not. I faltered so much, did too much, did too little, I’m sure in all the ways that mattered. I write about it because writing is my way to express emotions and to make connections. Right now I’ve got a bunch of feels. Who am I, if I’m not fighting for him? Who am I, if I’m not making mostaccoli and chocolate chip bars, and buying watermelon Propel, because those are his favorites when he stops by? Who will we go to Mug Club with, that we like as much as him? (Okay, we’ve got some suitable stand-ins, but you get the gist).
Milestones like this also mean you revisit those life lessons you were supposed to impart. A long time ago I bought a fancy little book with butcher block type paper, and the title was, “Did I Ever Tell You?” It’s filled with these gorgeous plant illustrations, accompanied by sentences like, “Hyacinth is for hope. I hope I told you somewhere along the way to stand up for what is right.” I’m making that up, because I don’t know where the hell that book is, but that’s how it went. My intent was to give it to Sean at graduation. Maybe I did. I hope so, because my daughter-in-law would love it. Anyway, these thoughts float around. Did we tell him enough about insurance? IRA’s? Changing his sheets more than once a year? I used to work with pregnant teens, so pretty sure I covered the “use condoms” one. Ad-nauseum. Still, we probably left out a lot.
These are the days that we parents prepare for, watching our hatchlings fly. It has to be according to their timeline, and not ours, and it might be one filled with a lot of turbulence. For all my mournful musings I am thrilled. To see him (and his brother) thrive in whatever ways they decide are right for them is the end game. It’s worth every sleepless night, every dirty sock left on the floor and every teeth-gnashing moment of anxiety. The last couple of days, I must have told him a half-dozen times to use the blindspot mirrors and stay in the right lane when he drives that truck. “I know, mom, I know!” Exasperation in every syllable. Be patient with me, I wanted to say. Mama bear instincts die hard, even harder when they’ve had so damned much honing and practice.
Friends, thank you for all the prayers and well wishes you’ve sent our way on this next chapter. As of the consumption of this pint, my cub has arrived safely and is fervently unpacking, and his beloved felines survived the journey intact. My belly is beginning to unclench, thank God. Good things await, once I can see through this glossy film in my eyes. You young mamas, hold on tight, and don’t ever regret going to bat for your baby when it’s called for. Nobody else will do it for them, until a day like this comes, when you realize they’ve learned to do it without you. And that’s a win-win, all around.