Subject: I am so lucky
Hi -- Jord just called me (from his new cell phone) to see if I wanted to go to lunch with him today!
Kit is an old friend. Jord, whom we used to call Jordy, but who now prefers "Jordan," is her 17-year-old son. It's hard for me to believe, in that way that aunts who pinch cheeks have such a hard time believing, that Jordan is a senior in high school now. I remember him best as a tiny kumquat of a thing in Kit's arms as she left the maternity ward. Kit was the first of my friends to have babies; her older son, Josh, had arrived a year and a half earlier. With this new kumquat in her arms, she was now the mother of two. It was utterly inconceivable to the rest of us, as we flitted between boyfriends and bosses and drowned ourselves in girl talk topped by chasers of chablis. Motherhood -- I suppose it separated her from us.
I e-mail her back and tell her that being invited out to lunch by your teenage son sounds totally sweet and wonderful -- but I can't help worrying. "Is something wrong?" I ask her. "Is there something he needs to discuss with you?"
"Oh, I don't think so," she writes. "He's getting out early from school, so he has some time."
I try to comprehend this: A teenager getting out early from school deciding what to do with his time. He thinks: "Hmm. I wonder if my mom is free for lunch."
I tell Kit I can't fathom it. "You sure he doesn't want to ask you to buy him a car or something?" I write.
"LOL," she writes back.
I don't remember it always being like this. Kit was never the buddy-buddy type, the sort of parent who tried to be best friends with her kids. Come to think of it, she was more the . . . behavior-modification type. I do remember an awful lot of rules. The boys could have only one hour a day of "screen" time, whether it be TV, computer or other virtual entertainment. I remember thinking, "Aw, come on," a lot, when it came to the rules around TV, or sugar, or soda, or any of the other indulgences Kit kept such a firm lid on. She was very big on boundaries.
I note the original subject line of her e-mail: "I am so lucky."
Lucky? There must be more to it than that. I wonder how she got here, how she turned into the mom of a teenager who chooses, in his free time, to take her out to lunch.
Kit got divorced when Josh and Jordy were preschoolers. It was not her own idea. You would have thought their world would become chaotic, but in actual fact the reverse happened. Kit turned into a rock. She was a single mom working to pay the bills; she couldn't do the whole homeroom-mother thing, or the amazing-craft-projects thing, but she kept on enforcing the rules, giving her boys the safety of structure. Her life sometimes appeared crushingly predictable to the rest of us, as we flitted between more boyfriends, bosses, vacations and poolside pina coladas.
You don't automatically think of the word "happy" next to the word "rock." Maybe that was what was so odd. Spending time with her sons seemed to make her happier than just about anything.
Later in the day, I e-mail Kit and ask her how the lunch went. "He talked about his gym final," Kit writes. "He talked a bit about his relationship with his dad. We talked about the elections in Israel and a lot about his friends' auditions for the music program at WVU. We gossiped a little about the waitress."
I ask her if she's aware of some trick to it. Does she know what she did as a mom to create a relationship like this? She says she can't think of anything. "Except, you know, with teenage boys especially, I think somehow people are taught to assume they're bad, or full of horrible secrets, or not trustworthy." She says she's always trusted her sons, so maybe that was something. She says she raised them to be people she would like to live with. "It was like you had the chance to help shape the perfect roommate," she writes. "We didn't yell. We had good manners."
I tell her I remember, when the boys were little, how calm her house seemed, how she had such a gentle, commanding presence, and that it seemed her boys could talk to her about anything. Somehow, when I observe the situation in my own house, currently invaded by two toddlers, there's a lot more . . . noise. "I am new at this," I tell her, "and have so many fears of being nothing but an old crank."
"Old Crank is good!" she says. "I wore my Meanest Mom badge proudly. They have friends; they need an Old Crank to blame things on."
I tell her I think she should open a school. The University of Motherhood. I ask her, finally, if anything else happened today with her lunch with Jordan.
"As we were leaving, he offered me a stick of gum. He asked me if I'd ever put a Big Red wrapper on my forehead. He held out his wrapper (the silver part) for me to lick and then he stuck it on my forehead and we walked out of the restaurant."
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.