Boys, Men, and Mothers

I went to a dinner party last night, at the house of a neighbor and friend. I went alone, as is my custom these days, and everyone was already seated and tucking in to one of four kinds of chili when I arrived. Introductions went around and the conversational thread picked up where it had been, apparently, when I came in. A kid in a ponytail and bandana was talking about the Middle East, and suggested the US might do well to align itself with Turkey. I, having been in the house for exactly five minutes and knowing nothing about the subject, expressed my skepticism. I really can be a bore. The conversation then turned to other more lively topics, and it was dropped.

After slowly and steadily defeating four bowls of chili and two glasses of wine I retreated to the cool night air of the back patio for a smoke. The ponytail guy was there too. I spoke first,

“Hey, I’m sorry for that Turkey comment, for being dismissive. What I said, I really don’t know anything about it. I was just there once and it struck me as patently corrupt. But what government isn’t, right?”  He raised his eyebrows, he smiled easily,

“Oh, no. Don’t worry about it. They are corrupt, but not as bad as maybe China or Russia…” and from there the conversation weaved from politics, to travel, work. I learned that he was 25, fairly well traveled, and wants to be a therapist. He was interesting, and I like interesting people, so I asked questions, made charming and appropriate replies.  The conversation turned towards our mutual friends and how we knew them, and the guests at the party. He said,

“It is nice to meet adults too. I mean, people who aren’t just out of college.” I realized he was talking about me and laughed.

“Yes, I suppose I fall firmly into the ‘adult’ camp at this point. Though sometimes I don’t feel like it. I mean, I’m still trying new things. Like I just sang with a band for the first time this weekend. I didn’t feel very grown up.”

“Yeah, like my friend’s mom, she’s so cool. She’s like my second mom…” At this point he kept talking about this woman, but I couldn’t hear him, because my head was filled with a loud voice saying “HOLY SHIT. YOU WERE JUST COMPARED TO THE MOTHER OF AN ADULT MAN. A 25 YEAR OLD MAN THINKS OF YOU LIKE A MOTHER.” Then he came around to his point, after describing our mutual coolness – me and this other mother – and said,

“She’s just a totally amazing and beautiful woman.” Well, that’s better. I smiled at him, happy in my assumption that I was amazing and beautiful too. Thanks kid. Someone else came out to the porch and he made to leave. We shook hands.

The spring after I left my husband, I dated a few young men – quite young. To say we “dated” would be misleading. It was spring. They were fleeting diversions, but I don’t think they saw me as, um… maternal. Unless they had some very complicated relationships with their mothers. Like, oedipal ones. At the time though, my behavior was not very adult. I was as unmoored as my twenty-five year old self, heady with the freedom and independence of being single, hanging out with people ten years younger than me. In fact, these younger men were often shocked to find out my age, to learn that I was a professional, and most surprised that I was a mother. It was fun, but I started to feel like the creep at the keg party. When I left St Cloud, without thinking about it, I left it behind. A year later, I’m a grown-up again. Ta-da.

During that period, that spring, I met a more age appropriate man, a friend-of-a-friend, named Rick. Rick was a sweet, sweet guy. We did that awkward, apathetic dating thing where we could never trouble ourselves to really get together, but not for lack of trying. Eventually I had to concede it was a spring fling, and nothing more. Last week he died. He was 35.

The news came to me as part of my facebook newsfeed, a post of our shared friend. Shocked, I went to his “wall” to try to find out the details. It became clear by the nature of the comments that he had killed himself. Of-course I was shocked. I scrolled down, reading everyone’s thoughts, the rawness of them, all messages he would never hear. Too late. His mother wrote simply: “I love ya and will miss you and why???????????”  I started sobbing. The mom in me sobbed. I didn’t know Rick well, and I never met his mom, but I could picture her grief with clarity.

That night I laid down with Ivan as part of our bedtime ritual. I watched him twitch and drift off to sleep. I thought of Rick, and how he was this small once. I thought of his mother putting him to bed at night. I thought about Ivan becoming a man. Will he grow up to be sad? So sad that all the lifetime of love I pour into him will not save him? I could not bear it.

I got up and walked back downstairs to my laptop. I went back to Rick’s page and read more of the posts, looked at pictures of him. I saw his last status update, about 3 weeks old:

“Somehow I just had a vision of what the difference is to be old, and to be young. I want my 20’s back because I’ve gotten too good at being old.” Hmm, a little cryptic. A woman typed a reply about agelessness of spirit, etc, and his reply to her read, “…yes- there is something timeless about anyone’s spirit. I was thinking more about a certain joie de vivre. Not physical health- but the spontaneity that comes with youth and lack of experience.”

He is right of-course. You can’t ever re-capture innocence, youth. But it turns out you can still sing in a rock band when you are middle-aged. You can become an adult and still go to dinner parties with ponytail wearing boys. You can practice the act of transformation over and over again, and grow up a little more each time. I am so, so sorry he never saw the joy and gravitas that comes from experience, with age. Something obscured his view. It is amazing and beautiful.


8 thoughts on “Boys, Men, and Mothers”

  1. your writing is amazing and beautiful. I love reading what you write, becuse I’m right there with you, on the back patio, putting kids to bed and shaking my head, having also had a friend who chose to cut out early rather than experience to bittersweet joy of being middle aged.

  2. Well, Jen, you are not old and you are not a kid. I participated in my first poetry slam this summer. But how old are we? I am a bit older than you, Jen. But I have only grazed up against the rock band experience–sitting in a couple of times, but not the show.

    How old do people think we are? Years ago, I met a woman who ran away from me at first–for a few reasons, but in her perception that I was 25 years younger than her was the first one that made her jump. Actually, I was “only” 14 years younger and she would be the second person with whom I would join in this same age disparity in the same direction, as I had a decade earlier. I have also been in relationships with women a dozen years younger. But what it says on mortality, I am just learning.

    But begin a parent has made me see them as the child they were–and still would be. That their parents had passed, often, But their parents passed with the satisfaction that their children did not precede them in death.

    In the mean time, we are stuck, somewhere between that realization of mortality, ours and the rest of the previous generation, and that youthful oddity of seeming immortality, where flings don’t add to our sadness and depression, even with totally cool, lovely people.

    And it is important to be at a place were I am so glad that i am no longer 25.

  3. Last night I was sitting outside by our fire in the quite of the night and I was just thinking about this age thing myself. I thought, how in the world did this happen. How am I almost 40 years old. I remember when my mom turned 40. They had a huge party, of course, and Dave and I sucked loads of helium from this giant balloon from the party. I remember thinking that day that I would never be 40. Many of my friends, mom friends too, are much much younger than me. Sometimes it’s hard to believe because they look older from my eyes. I’ve had many people freak out when I tell them I have a 12 year old son. I definately don’t feel that old but I am seeing the changes in myself as I age. I don’t even know which section to shop in anymore. I can’t really fit into “juniors” but I will never buy “mom jeans” either so it’s a tough age to be in and it’s hard to accept getting older.
    I would never kill myself over that but maybe there were hidden reasons for his choice. I’m so so sorry to hear about your friend. I’ve lost a few myself in the past couple years.
    You totally made me cry when you talked about wondering how Ivan will grow up. I wonder that every day, especially with Hunter. Wondering how I can love him without invading his pre-teen space. It’s definately tough to be a parent. All you can do is guide them and hope they accept who they are and can express who they are without anyone tearing them down. It’s all mind games.
    Love you Jenny.

    1. Cheryl, I was thinking of writing an addendum to this, pretty much addressing what you said. I hope I don’t seem to imply that Rick’s reasons were at all related to his last Status Update, but given what I was already thinking about, it struck me as so interesting, so sad. I have no idea why he did it, except that I think he was suffering in a way no one will ever really understand. I am sad for his friends and family. he was a lovely guy.

      Thanks for your other comments and sharing too. Funny you should mention your mom, she is one of the most young at heart people I know. Love you too.

  4. Such a good reminder, Jennifer, of so many important things. Sometimes I think we need to go back to the old wishes we made when we were kids, “when I grow up,” and try to do them proper justice instead of going bitter about all the things we didn’t realize. Still a lot of room to grow.

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