By Erika Hoffman
I returned from a trip to Florida to visit one of my grown children. On the plane while gazing out the window, I thought about this son who took a day off from obligations to spend it with me touring his new abode and city. I reflected on his giving up his bedroom for my comfort while he made a pallet for himself on the floor of the communal living room he shares with two roommates. I remembered how he took time to show me where the fitness room and pool were, how he painstakingly demonstrated how all the remote controls to the TV operated, and how he spent time ensuring that I knew how to unlock his door since his key was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. When he was at class, he wanted me to feel comfortable in his apartment building.
As I zoomed home on Jet Blue, I considered writing a story about this kid, this thoughtful boy who stocked his refrigerator with Tabs because that is what his mother still drinks. (I am stuck in a time warp like Austin Powers.)
Yet, I know that in creating a narrative, be it fiction or non-fiction, the scribe must arouse emotions in the reader: feelings of sadness, hilarity or excitement. The author has to provide tension with a conflict; then she must reveal how it gets resolved. In so doing, an inspirational lesson is gleaned. That’s the way it’s been with my stories, which often revolve around parenthood. When I jot down a tale, I locate a trouble spot in the upbringing of my tribe and relate what happened. Frequently, I’m writing about three of my four offspring: the three squeaky wheels.
A few weeks back, when I mentioned my upcoming sojourn to Florida, a pal said to me over lunch, “You never talk much about your third son.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“He doesn’t cause me any grief,” I replied.
I sipped my syrupy sweet iced tea and thought about the Biblical story of The Prodigal Son. In it, the good son feels neglected because of the attention his father paid to his brother upon his return home after the boy had led a gallivanting, wasteful, decadent life. This returning kid, who’d been selfish, was feted and feasted while the helpful child, who remained home, working for his dad, never had been given a fiesta in his honor. He felt resentful. I wondered then if my third boy ever felt slighted.
My baby boy, now 25, had picked me up at the airport and lugged my heavy bag to his vehicle, and, despite Hurricane Irene brooding off the coast, drove me around the city he now calls home. During the downpour we ate lunch at an Italian café on Las Olas Boulevard. After the wind died down, he and I grocery shopped together while he related all the training he’s received. He entertained me with engaging stories about medical procedures he’s learned. In the evening, we dined out at a barbecue eatery. Back at his place, he sat quietly next to me while we watched my favorite TV shows. I told him he didn’t need stay by my side; he was free to study in the next room or leave to do whatever he needed to do.
“I’m okay here alone,” I said. He didn’t budge except to tilt his head toward me.
“I can catch up later, Mom.”
He dragged out the sheets from the dryer and made my bed; he laid out towels and fetched anything I might need for the night.
Most likely this story about my non-prodigal son won’t make the cut anywhere; there’s nothing overly dramatic, utterly poignant or hysterically funny in it. Yet, I had an epiphany. There is an “aha” moment to this simple narrative. Sometimes a parent gets so caught up with putting out fires, assuaging drama queens, and maneuvering around the shenanigans of “the entitled child,” that she overlooks CinderFella – the quiet one. Sometimes in a family there’s a child that makes no waves, seeks no limelight and requires no special favors. A wise parent should step away from directing mini-divas that rival “reality stars” and make time for that child who makes a parent’s life easier. Appreciate the one on automatic pilot who’s doing his own stealth mission without fanfare, who, though unnoticed, saves the day, and who makes a parent feel that she’s succeeded on the worthwhile endeavor of child rearing.
“Thank you, son,” I whispered as he hugged me good-bye at the airport. “I had a nice visit.”
“Me too,” he said. I watched as my quiet son drove off, back to his life in South Florida.
Was it my adept parenting or just “my lucky stars” to birth such a kid? Lucky, lucky stars – I’m going to put more faith in astrology!
About this writer
- Erika Hoffman writes humorous, true stories many days, inspirational nonfiction personal essays on other days, and some days fictional opuses of staggering genius. Currently, her nonfiction pieces appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Parenthood; Not Your Mother’s Book… on Travel; and Oh Sandy, an anthology about the lighter aspects regarding the storm.