My elder son’s desire to fix things for me is nothing new. For years, my little boy was the “man of the house” — my Right Hand Guy and my Biggest Cheerleader. He was an inquisitive child with impressive skills; he seemed delighted to put his spatial, mechanical and technology competence to use in the service of his very grateful mother.
Some things don’t change.
Last Christmas morning began with my son’s unsolicited vacuuming — a pleasant surprise — followed by a slew of other entertainments involving screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. Shortly thereafter I was the recipient of spontaneous suggestions regarding how to reorganize my kitchen cabinets, a less than welcome conversation when you’re late to your holiday hosting tasks, which I was at the time.
That discussion with my firstborn came as I was trying to keep a well-intentioned guest out of my tiny cooking triangle, already crowded with my younger son at my side chopping, peeling, and mixing. I should point out that both my kids are comfortable in the kitchen. I taught them young, and they’re handy with a recipe and creative with a skillet.
Let us also acknowledge that as adolescence bears down, what our children will do for us is subject to change, and my elder son was certainly no exception. His willingness to assist became less predictable and more conditional. For example, he carried what I needed him to carry (after a negotiation), he repaired what I needed him to repair (with enthusiasm), he ran any and all errands (requiring that he drive my car), and he grew bolder in pointing out my organizational deficiencies (and he still does).
However, let it be said that Mr. Fix-It, now 23, lives in a roomy apartment with plenty of storage, and his cooking area is twice the size of mine. Consequently, he is increasingly intolerant of what he finds when he returns home, and more insistent that he wants to tidy, to organize, to fix.
I understand his discomfort. I appreciate his help. I love his initiative. But his timing?
In the mad dash to deal with festive fowl and various veggies, I had to shoo my progeny out of the kitchen, yet what followed was certainly agreeable: There were boxes emptied and cables tucked out of sight; there were modems deciphered and download speeds improved; there was a bolt on my bedroom armoire that was miraculously rendered fully functional. And then we sat down to a delicious dinner.
Christmas evening, my son presented me with a cocktail shaker and an assortment of mixers, then went about fashioning a “Champs-Elysées” and a “Bombadier.” Could this have been an attempt to “fix” my sober mood that day?
Later that night, powerless to stop my determined offspring, I looked on as drawer cleaning was underway despite my protests, though I admit to a good laugh at the discovery of seven small bags of balloons, 11 boxes of birthday candles, and five rolls of cling wrap.
The next morning?
“Mom, your wipers are shot; let me replace them,” he said, to which I nodded in the affirmative. He grabbed the car keys, drove off down the street, and two hours later, the deed was done.
It’s an interesting ride, this parenting gig — challenging under the best of circumstances, heartbreaking under the worst, and more than the typical mixed bag when you’re doing it on your own. Constant worry becomes your companion, as the usual concerns are overshadowed by guilt and conflict: like millions of single parents, I worry about how divorce impacted my children.
We worry about how to tell them that divorce is coming, though often enough, they see it and we’re simply grasping for the best way to confirm that fact.
We worry about adjustments to two households, to moving, to divided allegiance — especially if there is extreme animosity or a new step-parent in the picture.
We worry about loss of innocence, the effects of stigma, emotional problems. We worry about their early experiences of parents being so fallible, so flawed, and suddenly, unrecognizable.
We are right to worry and to pay attention. We are right to make their welfare a priority. We are right to sit with them as long and as often as needed — the tender vessels for their anger and their sadness, and the appropriate recipients of their difficult and accusatory questions.
We are also presented with opportunities: to become strong models of survival when things do not go as we like, and to exemplify the determination to learn from our mistakes.
How we deal with these realizations and their follow-up provides important lessons, including the fact that every relationship isn’t a keeper, and sadly, this may be true of marriage.
Our greatest opportunities may lie in the ways we respond to what is broken; the ways we approach acceptance and resolution; our ability to persevere in building anew.
Over the years, my elder son took apart everything he could get his hands on — a means to master pieces and parts — and in so doing, he put things back together and understood how they worked. I have marveled at this innate ability, and wondered why we aren’t so gifted with relationships.
As a child, my son soldered circuit boards, plumbed toilets, and refitted faucets. As an adolescent, he rewired lights, repaired cracks, and rebuilt computers. He went to his little brother’s defense on more than one occasion, and patched up his hurts when I was unaware of them.
And this isn’t all; for as long as I can remember, he puttied holes in my heart with his soothing words and his steady presence, a sign of his belief in my capacity to right the world for the three of us.
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