Kissing Thing1 goodbye two years and one pandemic ago as we dropped him off on the corner closest to his dorm was tough but good. He was doing what kids are supposed to do. He was trimming away the apron strings.
But then, yesterday, he shredded them.
He had been back for two weeks after his classes ended and then packed up and drove back to school to an apartment he’s rented for the summer. Without any prompting from his parents who would really love to spend more time with him, he’s found work and a place to live and started building an adult life.
He submitted to a long maternal hug and some tearful kisses, promised not to drive too fast and text when he got there safe (which he forgot to do, of course). It’s what he’s supposed to be doing, and, even thought in some ways it’s the hardest day of being his mom, having the proof that he’s standing on his own two feet and happy made it the one of the best.
Not belonging to any religion — organized or not- our nuclear unit reconfigures most holidays to fit our wants and needs. The fourth Thursday in November is no exception, especially this year.
Like many Americans, the Big Guy, Thing 2, and I have been recreating, working, and schooling from home since March. Thing 1, needing a break from being parented, decided to run away from home with one of his cousins and quarantine in an apartment Connecticut where they did their classes online all fall.
Our autumn of isolation followed a summer devoid of our usual family reunions in Michigan or even a day-trip to see siblings in nearby Connecticut. My septuagenarian parents and the Big Guy’s sister have also been staying home to avoid becoming disease vectors, so when Thing1 and his cousin announced they would join us for Thanksgiving, we knew what this holiday would be about this year — and probably for the next twenty years.
Twenty-year-old Thing1 and my twenty-one-year-old niece (the pig-tailed tyke featured in my first and only book, A is for All-Nighter) drove up Wednesday afternoon. Thing1 and his brother had put in their request list of favorite side dishes. We had all agreed to keep everything but the food casual, and I had most of the meal prepped and ready to go into crockpots by the time they arrived.
The crowd at the Thanksgiving-eve dinner table was half the usual size, and the kids took advantage of a dearth of parents and complete absence of grandparents to indulge their inner eighth graders (much easier for Thing2 who actually is an eighth grader). By the time Thing1 went to the kitchen island for thirds, Thing2, who had been saving up his best fart jokes for an appreciative audience for nine months, had our tiny crowd roaring.
I played Exploding Kittens with the kids after dinner for a few hands before turning in. Thing1 and my niece, now used to studying until dawn, played cards with Thing1 until the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. Their shrieks of laughter occasionally penetrated our bedroom door, and as we quietly laughed into the darkness, the Big Guy and I tried to recall experiencing a better holiday.
Some things were the same. My niece and I still managed to burn the bottoms of the crescent rolls (I felt like I was literally passing her a torch of some sort). Thing1 still insisted he wanted me to make a quart of cranberry relish. Thing2 assured us he’d be taller than Thing1 by Christmas. And, even though it was a much smaller gathering, the weekend was still about family.
We Zoomed with parents and siblings who had to stay in their states, missing the warmth of a large family gathering, but the fact that any of us could gather at all made this weekend special. I know American Thanksgiving (along with much of our history) is fraught with controversy, but, for our family, any event marked by four days in a row of gathering and giggling with our kids, especially over burnt crescent roll bottoms, is a holiday worth celebrating and being thankful for.
When Thing1 was still a pea-picker, he hunched over his Matchbox cars for hours, watching their wheels and gears as he drove them around carpets and vitas he created and telling them their stories. I wish I had written them down because sometimes I think he needs proof as to just how creative he is. I think a lot of people do.
Thing1 is about to turn twenty. He knows how to fix cars and program computers. Anyone who watched him studying the movements of cars as a toddler would say it pretty accurately predicted his mechanical aptitude.
His love of discovering how things work, however, often translates him putting high value on common sense and things that can be proven. When I tell him of the spaceships he conceived and drew, of the stories he told, he answers, “I’m just not all that creative anymore, Mom.”
Yesterday proved him wrong, and this time I got the photos to prove it.
When Thing1’s college closed, his first action, over our strong objections, was to go job hunting. He received two offers as soon as the state closed down both businesses, but his employment history from the previous year earned him the ability to collect benefits during the pandemic (he wasn’t eligible for the stimulus because he’s too much of an adult and too much of a dependent to fall into any category the government considers visible). He’s saving some of that money but, still a teenager for another two months, money can burn a hole in his pocket.
Thursday he announced he was buying a hammock to use at school when it reopens. Then he announced he’d like to test drive at home. He asked the Big Guy and then me if we could think of any appropriately socially distant pairs of trees from which to hang it and, despite being surrounded by trees, we just scratched our heads.
Friday, Thing1 and Thing2 traced our normal route around the house, making incursions in to the forest when this or that pair of trees sparked their interest. They showed us a few ideas, but the Big Guy and I just couldn’t see the right trees for the forest.
Saturday, Thing1 disappeared again and then took his machete and power saw to the woods behind the house. We heard some hacking and then a familiar buzz. Thing1 came back to assure us that the tree he’d taken down had been punky and about to fall anyway and then to invite us to the clearing he’d made. The Big Guy and I started our usual afternoon route and went to where the boys were waiting, Thing2 dancing from foot to foot to show us Thing1’s work.
The boys had found a perfect opening into the forest and created a more defined path to a pair of trees that, somehow, the Big Guy and I had missed the day before. Thing1 had felled one tree and cleared some rosy bush between the two that would support his hammock. Then he indicated the tree-filled slope leading down to the river that will be the view for anyone sitting in the hammock.
Thing1 had pulled a paradise from the mass of trees and rosy bush. When the hammock arrives, he’ll assemble it and give credit for the completed project to his common sense. I’d like to think that it was actually good old fashioned common creativity that helped him identify the perfect spot to meditate on the question.
It’s interesting watching fathers and sons connect. It happens in the very beginning, but it seems as if, during those early teen years, a chasm sometimes appears.
When Thing1 was eight or nine, he and the Big Guy bonded as father taught son and then sons the fine art of burping on command and then advanced topics like the alphabet. Thing1 got into computers a few years later and entered his own little world — a world he’s making his own now. The Big Guy isn’t anti-computer, but, for him, they’re tools. He doesn’t love to get under the hoods.
While Thing1 was focused on computer camp and making mods on programs, the Big Guy, an engineer at heart, focused on his interests. He still supported Thing1 through school and healthcare troubles every step of the way, but they didn’t commune over common interests until Thing1 got interested in driving.
Thing1, always interested in how things work, got into cars in a big way. He test drove as many cars as dealers would let him. He researched the workings under the hood. He even started a car blog for a very short time. He helped the Big Guy with a few jobs on his ancient Mercedes. Then, as he prepared to take custody of the keys to our 20 year old Volvo, he and the Big Guy had the ultimate bonding experience as they replaced the radiator together, the Big Guy teaching Thing1 new vocabulary every step of the way.
Thing1 finished his online classes last week and, with no way to work for a while, decided to work on the car that he bought last year. He turned on the hard rock station and took his car apart, demonstrating his command of the colorful vocabulary he’d learned in Home Mechanics 101 a few years earlier. And, every so often he’d call the Big Guy over for a bit of advice but also a bit of bonding over their common ground.
By the second afternoon, his car was mostly back together, and the two of them were sharing car repair war stories. Maybe the sun was in my eyes as I was watching them, and, definitely, the love was always there, but watching the ‘like’ grow was something special too.
The great thing about having raised teenagers is that, when your perpetually adolescent cat puts his front paws up on your plant shelf and starts sniffing the various items that are ‘in his spot’, you know exactly what he’s thinking.
There’s a plum tree right outside my window, and the late spring has produced an explosion of blossoms (and hopefully plums) along with a squad of visiting chickadees. A chickadee chirp woke Jim up. He drew himself up into pounce position, turning his head this way and that as the chickadee hopped from branch to branch. Every few minutes he tried the cat equivalent of bunting — pretending to jump at his prey but not really doing anything.
Then the chickadee made a truly bold move, moving to a lower branch with a particularly lovely lunch of blossoms, and Jim had to make a move. I though he might forget that a window lay between them as he launched his front paws on to the plant shelf.
Instead he paused.
I let him sniff for a few minutes and could almost see the thought bubble above his head asking the classic question,
“I wonder what would happen if….”
In this case, ‘if’ was a temporarily forgotten chickadee as Jim tried simultaneously to move a hind leg onto the shelf so he could what would happen if he pushed the squash plant in front off the shelf. But, having watched Thing1 and Thing2 ask (and test) this question at various times about anything that could be climbed, blended, eaten, or flushed, I know when to let the experiment play out and when science is about to run amok.
I clapped my hands once . Jim’s hind foot returned to the poof and his gaze to the chickadee. The bird heard my clap, fluttered across the yard, and, for the greater good, scientific investigation was stymied.