One of the great perks of my job is the parenting books that come into our office. We get boxes of them. I can find a title for any problem, situation, stage or dilemma. You name it.
Trouble is—and here’s one of the job’s downsides—I don’t have enough time to indulge my passion and read these books.
But one night, I am standing in the living room, the laundry is in the dryer, the dishes are done, the dog is walked, tomorrow’s lunches are bagged and the boys are safely packed in their rooms—the younger practicing his mandolin, the older practicing his trombone.
So, I grab a stack of intriguing titles, pour a glass of chardonnay and nestle into my kitchen nook to flip through books. I am a mom on a mission—a content, happy women, alone and ready to get lost in words.
"What’s first?" I ask myself. (OK, yes, I talk to myself. I prefer to think it is because I enjoy my own company—and not as a former college boyfriend once said, "You really are kinda crazy. You’re going to make a funny old lady, the way you say all those things out loud." And that wasn’t even during a break up. What did I see in him?)
Anyway, I use my announcer voice and read the first title, "The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, by Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D."
"Is that like P. H. Diddy or something?" the younger boy asks as he peeks over my shoulder.
Where did he come from? When your kids are babies, you know being alone is not an option. They came from your body and they become part of your body as you carry them on your hip or rock them in your arms.
But as they grow, they go. They leave your arms to crawl away, then they toddle down the hall and all too soon they are physically running down the street. They love the runaway game. They are all giggles as you chase them maniacally down the street.
Still, a parent’s arms seem to be a child’s harbor until sometime in seventh grade. Then they run away mentally. The games become a battle of wits. And on occasion, explosive angst, as in, "I never asked to be born, you know!"
This attitude should be expected at all family functions, would-be warm and fuzzy moments, public events and basically anytime you want to be with your children. But when I want to be alone, my boys become mini heat-seeking missiles. Like little nematodes, my dear, sweet parasites are all over me.
Call it their sixth sense.
I look up at my handsome boy.
"Aren’t you supposed to be practicing?" I ask, trying to sound all Donna Reedy, concerned yet slightly preoccupied. But it comes out more like Bree Van de Kamp a la "Desperate Housewives." My wine glass even begins to sway in my hand although I’ve yet to take a sip.
"I came to hang with you. You know, like you always want me to do."
"Now?" I say.
"What are you reading?" he asks undaunted and honing in.
"A book," I answer. He jumps in, "Like you used to read to me when I was little?" He’s good. That one goes straight to my heart. I am beginning to suspect: This kid wants something. The battle begins.
"Let me read it to you," he says.
And it’s something expensive, I think.
My boy turns the pages on the paperback and reads the list of the 10 basic rules.
"No. 1, what you do matters," he reads.
I take a swig of my wine.
"No. 2, you cannot be too loving," he says.
I am remembering "The Bad Seed," the 1965 version, not the 1985 television remake.
He continues, "No. 3, be involved in your child’s life." Then he stops. "You know, Mom, that’s good advice." His lips move and yet all I hear is, "What will you give me for a basketful of kisses?"
"Oh really, dear," I say. I look longingly at the pile of books—one catches my eye and I fire back. "Hey, dear, how about you read me this one, How My Breasts Saved the World, by Lisa Wood Shapiro."
"I can’t believe you said that, Mom."
Yes—direct hit. Mom still has a few scuds in her.
"Let’s go back to the list, Mom," he says. Good rebound, I think. But I want control. "Read that one," I say. "I like that one."
"You mean establish rules and set limits?" my boy says. "I much prefer the next one, help foster your child’s independence." I sense something is incoming and I will not be able to avoid the flak.
"Mom, don’t you think paintball would be a great way for you to help me foster my independence? Just me and about nine friends?"
I knew it—something expensive! Score one for maternal instincts. I am ready to go in for another hit and I look down at the list of rules. "Treat your child with respect," it reads.
That knocks out my next move.
I take a deep breath. And I realize I must shake off the idea that I am in a battle with my son. I look at this bright boy. I am so lucky. I put down the book. I will have many years to be alone.
"Nine friends? Do you really think that’s being independent?"