We absorb what our parents show us, deep in our cells, unknowingly. Even as we fight, as teens, to be anything but them, their love seeps into our bones—the very marrow–changing us.
Some of those changes appear as is, others are stored for future us, tempered in our cells with time.
It must be hard for my children. Their father and I so very “other” from each other, the warring factions, the opposite poles they must incorporate into their DNA.
I’ve been channeling, oddly enough, both my mother and my father as my eldest prepares for army training. My father used to feel that as long as he was within spitting distance of his daughters, they were safe. He felt this even as he grew frail in his mid-80s, wheeling an oxygen tank wherever he went. I always used to think he put his faith in his ability to physically keep us safe. Now I realize he put his faith in the swirling electrons we call love. That energy was what he invested in to envelop his offspring—an invisible shield from what the world would throw at us.
I find myself doing the same for my eldest, as he towers over me. There are times, in our relationship, when that is all I can do. Trust that the love permeates his cells. Trust that basic goodness and love win. I am still confused—that one is for me to work out—as to how he ended up with a father who calls him “dude,” swears freely at and with him, says nasty things about his mother, watches TV with the blinds drawn for hours on end. It makes my vision of fishing, life lessons and a steady hand seem quaint, doesn’t it? Ah, with age comes wisdom. A life bargain I wish I had known at 28. I want to scream at my son, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know better.” And yet, by apologizing for the union and wishing it away, I’d be wishing him away. It’s a Rubik’s cube without a solution. It must remain as is.
And my mother—well, she was stoic. Too much so. So the other half of my DNA tells me to wait—to wait and see. That the Army will be good for my son. That my love must be tough love right now, allowing him to chase whatever he is chasing there. Praying that his commanding officer is a man with a steady hand, who likes to fish and composes life lessons as Mozart did symphonies. It’s never too late, a hopeful voice inside of me whispers. That one, I think, is my own voice. Out of the DNA soup comes the real me.
And I do believe our ancestors help us move their lineage in the right direction, using wisdom they may not have had access to here—but certainly do in divine form. I feel, so palpably, my mother and father taking over where I cannot go. I cannot be at an army fort in the south in the middle of the August heat, nor should I be. I cannot watch as a drill sergeant brings my son to his breaking point and then ensures he snaps, so he can be rebuilt in a soldier’s mold. I hope what breaks are the less than lovely bits he learned because he lacked firm guidance in becoming a man. And I hope what saves him—what he turns to when he is face down in the mud—is what I planted so many moons ago. That he is loved. That he is enough. That he comes from several generations of really decent, hard-working people.
That he is loved. There, let me say it again.
As I am loved. Mom and Dad have let me know that, even though they are not here. On my doorstep, last week, sat a pearl-topped hatpin, of the variety my mother kept in her pincushion. You don’t see these kinds of pins anymore, really. I certainly don’t have any. And yet, as I opened my door, there it sat on my welcome mat. There is no one else in the world these remind me of, except my mother. I smiled a silent thank-you at the sky.
And my father—well, my father worked hard for his money. He believed in saving your pennies. At the end of each week, he would empty his change into my hands, telling me to put it in my piggy bank. It was a little ritual we shared. It is no surprise, then, that I have been finding stray pennies everywhere over the past month—no matter where I go, there seems to be one in my path.
My friends—they want to talk about it. To ask the details of his coming and going. I cannot. It is something so pivotal in our lives—a turning point in which he will go one way or another—that I can’t even speak of it. It is pain and salvation and blessing and curse all rolled into one—and I know not yet which of those labels will stick in the final accounting. What my loving friends do not get–because most of them do not have to–is that the boy who leaves me this week has known birthday parties and family vacations. The man who comes back in four months will know how to use a hand grenade, provide cover fire for a fellow soldier, rappel. He will know how to put on a gas mask, use night vision goggles, fire an automatic rifle. And he will have done all of this without any contact with his family and friends. It. Changes. Everything. My boy will no longer be like your boy, my friend. And I can’t talk about it right now. I am proud, and scared, and conflicted, all at the same time.
So instead, tell me your story. Let me forget my own. Allow me to listen and nod and cluck over yours.
Mine is a bit of a barn burner right now.