And he said it’s okay to tell you about him.
If you’ve been here for some time you may very well have thought that I only had two children. I do a lot with Noah and Chelsea and share much of it here. So I’ll get, on occasion, something like, “Oh? You have another son?” If any of you live with – or HAVE lived with – a 15-year old-boy, I’m sure that this doesn’t surprise you.
Teenage boys are the polar opposites of their female counterparts. See, life with a teenage girl is experienced in REAL TIME. Seriously. There isn’t a bad hair day, cruel taunt, or failed outfit that you don’t hear about loud and clear – as it’s happening, and typically accompanied by shrieks and tears. I seriously doubt that there was a moment during Chelsea’s adolescence that I wasn’t on intimate terms with. And I wouldn’t have traded a minute of it. Yes, it was often exhausting, but I was grateful that she chose to share it all with me. It gave me the opportunity to comfort her (as best as I could), and to forge a close bond that still exists today. I never had to wonder if she was having a good day or a bad day, as I was getting a minute-by-minute account.
But the boys? To say they “fly under the radar” is an understatement. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but one day Conor was just GONE. Not physically – laundry, meals and requests for allowance were proof that he still lived with us. But he now passed on most family outings. On the weekends he would sleep till mid-afternoon, only to slip out upon awakening to be with his friends. The door to his room entered a state of permanent SHUT. And conversations dwindled to almost nothing. He was still sweet and respectful, kept his room neat and orderly and did his schoolwork and chores (usually) without fuss.
He was just GONE.
So I understood why people I had just recently met thought I only had a daughter in college and a toddler. And for the most part I found this pretty amusing.
I was having coffee with a new friend when I got the usual – “Oh? You have another son?”
But it was followed by – “Does he live with you?”
And that struck a nerve. Around this same time my mom asked me if I thought that Conor was upset that I rarely mentioned him in my blog. To which I replied, “Well he’d have to READ my blog to know that.” And I was only half-joking.
But I couldn’t shake the thought that I should maybe address this with Conor. So I asked him if it bothered him that I didn’t write about him. And he told me that it didn’t bother him at all. Which I kind of expected. What I DIDN’T expect was what followed:
“But it would be okay with me if you wanted to. Oh, and make it with a recipe”. Or something like that.
So now I had permission. And after some conversation, the appropriate recipe too. So all I had to do was write about my Conor.
I’ve had his “permission” to write this post for months now. And while it would seem like a piece of cake, you know – no biggie – to write about my eldest son, I couldn’t do it. I’d sit down, ready to go, and think of any other post that I could share, that NEEDED to be shared first.
But now it’s time. And I’m already choked up.
My Conor has been that child, from the day he was born, who chokes me up. Is there a person who reaches you in a deep, deep place that no one else can? It can be a spouse, a friend, or a parent, but it’s a feeling that evokes the most raw, intense emotions. A combination of fierce strength along with immense vulnerablity. That’s my Conor.
Conor was a stunning toddler. He had the kind of looks that stopped people in stores, restaurants and just walking down the street. And whenever I got the typical, “Oh my god – those eyes/lashes/looks” – I would smile and say – “And he’s just as beautiful on the inside.” And I wasn’t just being polite.
Conor – from a very young age – revealed a mind, a spirit and a personality that was – and still is – the most creative, inventive and brilliantly talented that I’ve ever met. He is a gifted artist, an amazing writer and possesses a sweet and moral core that makes me STILL want to wrap him up in gauze and keep him safe from the rest of the world.
Which was pretty easy to do for the first few years. But as he got older I realized that the rest of the world – teachers, peers, camp counselors – would continually try to impose their expectations – their definition of “right” on Conor. And I would have to step up and explain – over and over again – that his uniqueness – his “out of the box” perspective was to be celebrated, not discouraged. I was often asked if I had ever considered an alternative, more “artsy” school for him. But I have always felt strongly that as long as Conor was thriving in public school, then that’s where he should be. Learning how to navigate the “real world” would hold him in good stead when, as an adult, he’d have to present his fabulous ideas to a room full of conventional thinkers. What good would I be doing to put him in a bubble for 12 years?
Again, as long as he was thriving. Which he was, for the most part. We lucked out with some incredible teachers who totally “got” him, and we provided outlets for his creativity after school, on weekends and during the summer. He had a great group of friends – a mix of kids with interests ranging from sports to art to skateboarding, who (at the lunch table anyway) – came together and wholly accepted one another. This was critical for Conor, who had no end of self-esteem but, like most of us, sought out and appreciated recognition from his peers.
Was it always easy? No. Middle school arrived, and instead of one teacher, all day, who could (if needed) be “worked with” over the year, we now had 8 teachers, for 43 minutes at a clip, who had no time or inclination to try and “get” my son. There were a few exceptions, to be sure, and it was no surprise that those were the classes where he performed at his best.
And watching the travails of being an adolescent boy makes me realize –without question – that it is, for the most part, way harder than being a teenage girl. Boys have to be tough, cool and confident. They need to be totally self-assured and broadcast this with great skill. They can NEVER cry, and there is no “talking things out” with friends during difficult times.
So what do I do as his mom? I walk that tightrope that we all do with our kids during these fraught years. I try to be accessible without prying, loving without being “awkward”, respectful of his privacy while knowing that there are questions and conversations that cannot be avoided. No matter how hard. Rather than have him take the train into the city for his Saturday art class, I drive him in. That magic “safe zone” of the car is where I can listen to his music, hear what he’s thinking about and ask him (a few) questions.
I try to give him his space, hug him whenever I feel like it (which is a lot) and tell myself, over and over, that he’ll be back. That he’s not really “gone” gone.
Oh, and I also try to make his favorite meals as often as possible. Like this one. It started as an appetizer but he loves it so much that one day he asked for it for dinner. Which is how it should be served – of course. He always has the best ideas. When he decides to share them.
I love my Conor so much. So much that it can never be properly shared or expressed. Even in 1500 words. This may be my longest post to date and if you’ve made it this far, I thank you. Are you the parent of a teenage boy too?
Does he have this effect on you?
Anyway, it had to be this long. I don’t know that I’ll get this chance again.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with Garlic Dipping Sauce
adapted from Gourmet
6 appetizer servings – as a main course count on 5-7 shrimps per person
18 thin slices imported prosciutto
18 fresh basil leaves
18 extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3 c. red wine vinegar
2 T. Dijon mustard
1 T. chopped garlic
1 c. olive oil
Place one prosciutto slice on your work surface, short end parallel to the edge. Place a basil leaf at one short end of the prosciutto slice. Place one shrimp atop the basil leaf. Roll the shrimp and basil in the prosciutto. Repeat with remaining prosciutto, basil and shrimp. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate.)
Preheat broiler. Combine vinegar, mustard and garlic in a blender or food processor. Gradually add oil; blend well. Transfer to a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Broil shrimp until opaque in center, turning every 2 minutes for a total of 6 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Serve hot or at room temperature with sauce.