When I was growing up, most of my friends were boys–it just worked out that way. Family friends had daughters who were my older sister’s age, and sons who were my age. Most of the kids on my block were boys. And as I grew older, I was quite comfortable hanging out with the guys. Someday, I figured, I’d make a pretty good mother of sons. As it turned out, my daughter came first—different learning curve there—followed by my two sons. No matter how well I thought I could handle raising boys, I had a lot to learn.
My two blue-eyed sons were born five-and-a-half-years apart. My youngest lucked out in the big brother department. He had built-in entertainment from the get-go, with a brother who loved to play imagination games, dress up in silly hats, and provide an afternoon’s fun at birthday parties. As the boys grew up, they developed a rapid-fire form of verbal volleyball that often left observers (and their parents) breathless. They are evenly matched in these extraordinary exchanges of wit and humor, which amount to a fever-pitch improvisational war of words. No one makes me laugh the way they do.
While they may walk alike, think alike, and share an off-beat sense of humor, they approach life’s challenges in very different ways. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:
One day, my older son called me, just to say, “Hi.” As usual, it took two voicemails, a couple of texts and three emails to set up the time to talk. We are busy people. I found out a few minutes into our conversation that he was calling because a friend’s mother had just died and, well, he wanted to hear my voice.
I learned that his friend’s mother had lost her third bout with cancer at age 51, and that the family was following Jewish tradition with a funeral and a week of sitting shiva.
My son and a few of his friends were making the four-hour round trip from LA to San Diego to pay their respects at the funeral, and then to sit with the family over the course of the next few days. They put their lives on hold to support a friend.
Sitting shiva is an essential part of the grieving process: the family spends a week mourning the departed, eating together, praying together and sharing memories with friends. After that week, the mourners are supposed to get back to the regular routines of life. My kids were not raised in a very religious home, but they knew about the importance of tradition. My son believes ceremonies like this require attention and attendance. He shows up.
I never met the woman who had just died, but I did know her son a little. While it was too late to tell her this, of course, I would have liked to let her know that she had brought up a good boy. Any mother, Jewish or not, loves to hear these things. But to me, a son who has friends willing to take the time to show up and offer support is a son who has good and loyal friends. A mother would want to know this about her boy.
For the rest of that week, I thought about this woman I had never met, and her motherless son. I also thought about my son and his friends who did the right thing when it would have been simpler to go about their lives with good intentions but no follow through.
Come to think of it, I brought up a good boy too. I hope I remembered to tell him the next time we negotiated a time to talk.
When my younger son was getting ready to go off to college, he paid a lot of attention to his dorm room furnishings. While we never seriously talked about the reality of his moving away to start the next chapter of his life—trading the moderate climate of the San Francisco Bay Area and the misery of high school for the excitement of college and the gray, rainy promise of Portland—we found a common focus: a decent set of extra-long sheets that wouldn’t feel like sandpaper.
I must have shared my limited knowledge of thread count with him at some point, although I didn’t think he would’ve paid attention at the time. But when the moment arrived to face facts and head off to the linen mega-store, he was a young man with a mission. He would look at a “bed-in-a-bag” set and scoff at the sub-par thread count. “Do they think we were born in a barn?” we would ask each other. The careful search continued up and down the aisles, which were stacked to the ceiling with options, until we found something that met his standards: not too colorful or too dull or too busy or too plain. His focus on the bedding made it OK to talk about his new home without actually having the conversation about his leaving home.
Three years later, he moved into an unfurnished apartment off campus. This necessitated the purchase of a new bed and new bedding. I caught up with him on his cell phone at the store while he was selecting something suitable for his new digs. I asked him what he had chosen, and, naturally, we talked thread count. Never mind that he was stepping up to a new plateau of independence, and that he would be one measure closer to the world beyond college. It was all about duvet covers: yes or no?
And when his graduation approached, he wanted to try on suits. So we went shopping. Once again, the focus wasn’t on the next step as much as it was on the idea of getting ready for it. Looking at himself in the mirror, he was trying on more than just the suit. Cubicle? Boardroom? Courtroom? Who knew?
Nearly two years ago, this young man took another big step and married his lovely college sweetheart. They are a good fit for each other in every way. He wore a suit that was chosen with the utmost care, in the same way he’s handled every major life decision so far. For him, every journey begins with a single thread.