December 28, 2005

Family Tales: Playing With Love

My son has never been what you’d call introspective. He’s a fun companion, and I truly enjoy his company whenever I can get it. But his conversation strongly tends either towards the light and humorous or towards obsessive dwelling on the Enthusiasm Du Jour.

So when he was silent for an extended period during our early-morning errand run this morning, and then thoughtfully, slowly announced, “Mom, I will remember yesterday for the rest of my life,” my ears definitely pricked up.

I took a deep breath. Such a serious voice could mean only one of two things: either he was going to reveal some very deep and traumatic hurt - which was going to have to be dealt with very sensitively – or he was about to initiate one of those rare, sweet Heart to Heart moments that we parents tuck away in a special lockbox in our memories, little treasures that we like to take out and dust off whenever we have a little quiet time to ourselves.

“What will you remember, Buggie?”

(See what a great companion he is? He doesn’t even cringe when I call him by pet names, as long as I don’t do it in front of his friends)

He looked down at his lap, and his voice went soft and tender. “Grandpa playing Bat the Balloon with me yesterday…”

Bingo! It was a Heart to Heart! Streamers and confetti were thrown about and Champaign corks were being popped in the little filing room in my head.

My son, the sweetest teenager on the face of the earth, continued:

“It’s really special to me when he’s playful like that. That’s a part of him that he usually keeps locked away. I really appreciated it when he showed me that side of him.”


Yeah. I have memories of my dad being funny, being charming, being a fascinating raconteur. I have memories of my dad making an ice cave for my sister and I in the back yard one winter, taking the entire afternoon to pile up a huge amount of snow, hollowing out the middle, lighting the big old Coleman lantern and with its heat creating a smooth, rippling hollow of ice through which the sun showed only as a shimmering aqua-colored glow – it was like being in the center of a big magical bubble in the ocean, and it was the coolest thing ever. I remember my dad being playful with my mom, for which I will be eternally grateful; because of their example, I am able to be similarly playful with my husband, which is a blessing in our lives.

But I only have one vague memory of my dad being playful with us kids, on a day when he took us tobogganing when we were very small. And that memory may only exist because my mother filmed a part of it, so I’ve seen some silent footage of him mugging and being silly for the camera (and consequently for my mother).

My folks were very young when they had us kids; my mom was still in college during her pregnancy with me. I think my dad felt that parenting was a Grown Up job, and perhaps that made him fearful that in being too silly with us he might lose our respect.

The advantage of being an older parent is that I’m not under any illusion that behaving immaturely will fool anyone into thinking that I’m younger than I am. I’d do it much more often if it did. So being thought silly, even ridiculous, by my child holds no fear for me. As he will happily tell you, whether you ask or not.


“Yes, that was pretty special. I’m so glad that you’re able to share that kind of thing with your Grandpa. I think you mean a lot to him. The two of you have a very special relationship.”

And they do. Sometimes I’m a little jealous of their closeness, actually, of my son’s certainty of his grandfather’s love and approval. But mostly I’m just really grateful. I remember how essential the safe harbor my grandmother’s unconditional love was to me during those horrible, awkward middle childhood years.

It was a gift to my son that my dad trusted him enough to play with him, to risk a perceived loss of dignity by sharing a moment of silliness. To give and receive unconditional love is a rare and beautiful thing. Everyone should be so lucky.

I’m glad my son and father are.


Blogger Chris said...

What a sweet story - thanks for sharing!

To me and my brother, my grandfather was sort of a grumpy lump. At his funeral this fall, it was interesting to hear about the completely different, more fun grandpa that the younger grandkids (about 15 years younger than my brother and I) had. It was almost like we weren't even talking about the same person...

8:05 AM  
Blogger mE said...

My grandfather was the same - it was quite a shock when my sister and I talked as adults to the older members of our family and found out that they thought of him as a fabulous story-teller and loquacious sort of guy.

It made me think about how hard it is sometimes for us to separate people from their role in our lives (Mom, Grandpa, Boss), and to get to really know them as people. Heck, it's hard enough to figure out who where our own social masks end and we begin...

4:31 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

This was an awesome story to read. :) Thanks for sharing it.

5:06 PM  
Blogger mE said...

I take that as a HUGE compliment, since a couple of your stories - the ones about your mom - made me cry like a baby.

Love your work, gal!

9:01 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Thank you. I'm flattered. :)

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Mama Stinfam said...

Very emotionally mature and tender piece, loved reading it, thanks!
In general, your snapshots-in-writing of your family are the best part of this blog, I think.

11:13 PM  
Blogger mE said...

Thanks, sis, I love you, too. :)

8:27 AM  

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