A barn burner

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.



54 Comments Add yours

  1. OMG. Love the way you wrote this! So beautiful. My son once told me that the only mistake I made being a mother was in marrying his father. Before he flew the nest he’d had a few faultering tries and imagined I still had a lot of time with him at home, but one day he met a girl with a baby from New Jersey and the next he’d packed his bags and went to get married at the county building. It was devastating–at first, but then I saw that he grew up almost instantly with new responsibilities and the love of a great girl. This girl and I are alike in many ways. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Wow, that’s a story! Very happy that it’s worked out in a happy way for them (and for you). I often joke with friends that when moms aren’t dispensing advice, we’re biting our lip to keep from offering it. Aargh. It’s wonderful when we can just slip into the moment and enjoy them, isn’t it?

  2. shamanism1 says:

    Love your messages from your mum and dad. They are there to be seen and remind us we are never alone. Your son won’t be either. Beautiful honesty as always 💕💚

    1. I love the messages from beyond, too!

      1. candidkay says:

        If we just pay attention, they let us know, don’t they?

  3. Grace says:

    “I’m sorry. I didn’t know better.” Oh the number of times I have silently sent that message to the loves of my life. My greatest failing. But without it I would not know my greatest joy. I know I can not fix it no matter how desperately I want to. I can not provide them with the father they deserve. I tell myself the lie that they are stronger, more self-aware, more compassionate for it. I know that’s a lie when I witness, time and again, the heartbreak they suffer at his hands. I do know, however, that if they ever trust themselves to make the decision on who to trust enough to create a new life with, they will make that choice much more carefully than I did.

    1. candidkay says:

      Hindsight is 20/20, right? I am glad that you sound like you are no longer beating yourself up over it. That doesn’t do anyone any good, right? Although, I too know what it feels like to truly regret not knowing what you didn’t know :-).

  4. I wish you both luck on this new adventure. His ability to change to grow and for you to not go crazy with worry.
    When my kiddo graduated high school and moved away with dad, it took me sometime to come to terms it was for the best. I instilled what I could and I recognized she would benefit from what he could instill in her. He and I are polar opposites.
    We can’t change our decisions and take in stride that your ex, his dad, was the right pick, we just can’t see it yet.

    1. candidkay says:

      I guess we just have to believe that the universe knows what it’s doing :-). Even when it seems like upside down world. Thank you for sharing your story and your kind comments. I really appreciate it.

      1. For better or worse things have a way of working themselves out.

      2. candidkay says:

        Nothing remains static, that’s for sure.

  5. Praying you have peace as changes rage on. 🙏🏼

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you. 🙏🏻 Means a lot!

  6. Masha says:

    Your post brought tears to my eyes.I can tell you one thing, and this may not comfort you, but the truth is that you never stop worrying over your kids, you never stop wanting to make it better for them, and you never stop letting them know your thoughts, why? because they are of you. And all you can do is have faith that everything you taught them is in there with them and they are carrying it with them. The hard thing is for you to let them grow up. Your mother and father’s spirits are with you, letting you know everything will be allright. Blessings.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you so much, Marsha. And I believe every word rings true. My mother and father never stopped worrying about us, no matter how old we got. I guess once you become a parent, you are always a parent :-). I appreciate the kind words!

  7. Ah, dear girl. What a beautifully written post about a bittersweet time in your family’s life. Such a complex set of emotions, of memory and future and present. I have no stories to share as I am still in awe of your breathtaking post. Is it trite to note that your writing is full of honesty and heart and tiny stabs of pain and wisdom too? Big hugs to you.

    1. candidkay says:

      Not trite at all–instead, mighty kind of you, Cynthia. Thank you for reading and taking it in–for respecting it instead of saying: “Of course it will all turn out.” I certainly hope it does, though . . .

  8. Cindy Frank says:

    Mmm. I know what you mean by this. But in a sense letting them go is allowing their hardening outer shell to develop, as it must. They have to be able to protect themselves in the world no matter where they go or what they do. But it’s that inner core that’s been fostered from the beginning that forms the true essence of the man. You’ve been there when it counted most. Hugs over the miles.

    1. candidkay says:

      I guess I’m praying his inner core was shaped by earlier days. Days in which I filled the hours with sweet things. Thank you so much for your kind words. Here we go :-).

  9. I can’t imagine what it must be like in those shoes of yours. I’m not sure who’s braver – he or you. And I’ve no doubt the precious lessons you’ve instilled in him will come to him afresh this season.


    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you 🙏🏻. Kind words and I’m counting on their truth!

  10. My heart as a mother is with you. Your son will be part of a fraternity that is close like no other. And yes, he’ll change a lot in the next few months. You don’t want my story right now. We’re working with a local mental health center to find a medication that will tame my son’s anxiety and quell panic attacks. Trying to keep the faith that we’ll find one that works. His education and future depend on it.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I’m sorry to hear about the situation with your son. I know you’ve already had a long road there, from your blog. I hope you find the right treatment soon and the world rights itself. Sending a hug.

  11. At the end of the day, you must trust the process. They own their own life and all of the steps along the way. Backing away, especially amid fear and frustration about tough choices, is so hard. I long have been in awe of my son’s intelligence. He took the ACT and SAT tests one time apiece, getting scores that were nearly perfect. He got a scholarship to a private college; it didn’t work out. I’m watching others his age gather their degrees and start their careers.They’re buying cars. They’re talking about goals, possible promotions, big dreams, etc. My son is trying things out. I fear he’s losing confidence in himself and not progressing as he could be — ah yes, that parental worm hole. I fear he can’t stick with things to achieve. Ah, yes — another difficult path for my mind to wander in the wee hours when sleep eludes me and worry talks over. He earned his EMT certification and volunteers at the local fire station for several overnight shifts a week. Over time, since he moved in after the failed attempt at college life, he has become more thoughtful. He is planning his work shifts around classes at the local community college and says he knows he must have a four-year degree. But still … I’m learning to be comfortable with the fact that I can’t make things easier for him. And I won’t accept the version that seems to get whispered in my year — you know, the devil that likes to repeat this one: “It’s your fault, whatever goes wrong.” Maybe I have to believe in him way down to my core before he can feel free to focus on the direct route to his career choice. Maybe that’s what’s missing for him right now, through no one’s fault. It’s just a place he got to on his own. Why is it so hard for me to believe in him? I guess because my own failed detours still may haunt me. And perhaps because I don’t want him to struggle — ever. But you know what? He owns his choices. He’s not trying to get by without work, and I owe him my full trust and unfettered faith. As you are saying, the most important thing right now is for him to know that he is loved, and that my love for him — along with the love from everyone in his family — is unconditional love.

    1. candidkay says:

      Wow. So much to respond to—thank you for sharing (as you always do) in such a thoughtful way. It does all of us good to share in those thoughts. Don’t you wonder sometimes about the parents whose kids just breeze through everything? How that must feel? And yet, those kids may not have the savvy or resiliency your son will when they hit potholes, as we all ultimately do. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re not celebrating the milestones–and yet he will give you and himself other milestones. Perhaps not on the timetable you’d like:). You’re right not to listen to that nasty voice that says it’s all your fault–because his responsibility is his. We all get parents who do the best they can–and in that lottery, I think he won:).

  12. stolzyblog says:

    Truly, truly, best of luck. Mine goes off to first day of school soon, and I can completely picture the moshpit of feelings. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, you said it. “Moshpit” is perfect:). Best of luck to you and yours. Here’s to the journey, right?

      1. stolzyblog says:

        yes… and to not over-reacting.

  13. Your son has a great basis to go out into the world in you and what you and all your ancestors have taught him.

    1. candidkay says:

      So very true. And in my best moments, that is what I hold onto. That I prepared him well for this challenge. Fingers crossed.

  14. mydangblog says:

    They all find their way and he has a good compass in you. Wishing him success in this next stage of his life. I know how I felt when my son left home and I’m sending you all the virtual hugs that I can.

    1. candidkay says:

      Hugs accepted:). I know we raise them to go off on their own, but ouch.

      1. mydangblog says:

        I always said it’s the mother’s curse: we raise them to be strong and independent, then it breaks our hearts when they are.

  15. There is another force at play in his direction Kristine, and it too is done with great love. Yes, he will fall, trip and stumble, and have moments of great love, for his family and future relationships. And you have already imprinted him with a beautiful love only a mom can give. But the greatest love he will find is by doing all of the above and then find his love, the one where we finally get to believe and trust in ourselves, love the one person we feel is not good enough, and be free to love ourselves and others unconditionally.
    But first the testing of our hearts, yours and his, to slowly begin that foray into what it really means to be that love. It will be so appreciated and held in great stead as it begins to smile as time goes by ❤

    1. candidkay says:

      From your lips to God’s ear, Roy. Thank you:).

    2. candidkay says:

      Egads. Autocorrect turned right into Roy. Not calling you Roy, Mark:). I know it’s you!

      1. lol…don’t you just love those auto-correct thingy’s. He’ll be fine Krystal 😀

  16. Su Leslie says:

    I’d love to have some wise words for you here, but I’m still struggling with my son’s growing up and growing away. What I’m sure of it that we have both been (and will continue to be) loving, thoughtful, reflective mothers, and That we have to trust in that.

    1. candidkay says:

      Wise words. There are many days when I do trust in exactly that. And I do believe a mother’s love has a power unlike most others. Thank you for the kind words. Keep on keepin’ on.

  17. Amy says:

    If it is of any consolation, I’m holding space for you, my friend… xo

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, it is. It most definitely is. Many thanks❤️

  18. suemclaren24 says:

    Another winner of a post. It’s tough, the letting go. You have prepped them as best you can; now they have to find their own way, with the solid background you have provided and with the knowledge that they will always have (as Dr. Phil says) a safe place to fall. The “signs” we get from the other side have only to be noticed, thus completing a circuit of connection to those no longer in physical bodies. I am blessed to have these signs frequently, most often as coins, and pennies in particular. Pennies are of little financial value these days, but they are incredibly valuable in other ways. Hatpins too. Thank you for sharing.

    1. candidkay says:

      Right–a firm, safe, consistent foundation. That’s what I’ve tried to give my boys. As a person more comfortable being the branches than the trunk, this required a shift in me. But I got there fairly quickly:). Here’s to firm foundations, signs, and the power of prayer . . .

  19. bostonterrio says:

    Instead of focusing on developing our children into good men or good women I believe it is more important that we give them a solid basis for being a good person. I believe with your influence your son has a firm and loving base that will help him define how he further develops into a person who remains confident in his abilities and eager to explore life.

    1. candidkay says:

      I agree on the good person foundation. Absolutely. And I’m not huge on gender stereotypes, having been raised in a very matriarchal family. But, I do believe it helps sons to have good male role models. I can be a great person–but I can’t show him how to be a great man. I am thinking he is heading into a sea of men–hoping he is assigned to/chooses the right ones. Thanks for reading and commenting. Welcome:).

  20. Judy says:

    I pray your son uses wisdom in searching out and cultivating relationships with honorable mentors in his new adventure.

    1. candidkay says:

      Exactly one of the things I’m praying for. Thank you . . . let’s get this prayer chain going:).

  21. Dale says:


    My eyes filled with tears as I read this, found myself bidding my head, shaking my head, saying “yes” out loud.

    My son was going the army route but changed his mind. At the time, I was sad/Happy about it because, I too, feel he needed a stronger hand than mine to guide him yet wasn’t sure I liked the type of guidance he could receive.

    I don’t have the additional burden of the other half of his DNA using his influence negatively and can only hope that the 16 years he did get has sunk in. That the part I’ve given has been more positive than negative.

    It is a waiting game. I hold my breath, hope he feels the love and moves forward positively.

    Lots and lots of love,


    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, friend, you nailed it. Yes. Yes. And yes. All of the above. Thank you for reading and understanding–and I’m so glad you were able to relate to this also. Uncharted waters for me . . . XXOO

      1. Dale says:

        Not easy navigating these waters, is it? All without any official course or guideline to refer to! XOXO

  22. markbialczak says:

    To give just a quick thought about your barn burner, Kay: I believe that a good mother goes a long way in teaching her son many things about becoming a man.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Mark. I certainly tried. But it is hard to model being a good man when I am not a man :-).

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