Tag Archives | Liam

the ghost of john wayne and the perils of eleven

I’m the mother of two boys.  Sometimes this fact seems like karmic revenge for a crime I didn’t know I committed in a past life. How can I be the mother of boys? I mean, does a tomato plant suddenly sprout beans?

Two days ago, Liam turned eleven, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a boy, a subject that obviously has me at a tremendous disadvantage: I’ve never been a boy and at this point I think it’s safe to say I never will be. As much as I’ve always wanted a daughter, there are times these days when I hear stories from friend with daughters the same age as Liam and I breathe a sigh of relief—the world of pre-teen girls (as I remember all too well) is fraught with pitfalls…pitfalls I was still climbing out of well into my thirties.

The pitfalls for boys seem different, in part because they have been inscribed into our culture so deeply we almost don’t see them as problems: our ideas about manhood, about masculinity: boys don’t have deep friendships, don’t cry, don’t feel. And so we forget to give them the language to talk about their feelings, forget even to give them the space to have feelings. We don’t even notice it’s happening, or if we do, we chalk it up to “growing up.” Maybe we stop giving our boys as many hugs, or the bedtime tucking-in ritual starts to seem “invasive,” or maybe we don’t hold their hands when we’re walking down the street. John Wayne died a long time ago, but his machismo lives on.

Liam may think of himself as a grown-up these days (there’s hair gel applied in the morning, sometimes so thickly that his head looks like a decoupage project; there’s a thin silver necklace around his neck and a swagger in his walk that wasn’t there last year) and sometimes he yanks his hand out of mine when we’re in public, but when the world gets too hard, he still climbs into my lap to tell me about his travails.  And that’s how it should be; it’s what I want him to do. There’s plenty of time for adolescent sullenness and withdrawal—and, truth be told, some of that is already happening: Liam, we say, what’s wrong? NOTHING, is the response, accompanied by a slammed door.  What can I say? He’s always been precocious. But given his pre-adolescent angst, I’m all the happier that he still finds comfort in my lap.

Where else does he find comfort? In the world of the computer games he’s designing (writing code, writing stories, creating worlds filled with the sort of minutiae that will probably lead him to spend his college years in a dark room playing Dungeons & Dragons); in books, which he devours like chocolate (The Hunger Games were the Best. Books. Ever. Until he finished The Lord of the Rings); and in soccer—excuse me, football—which has unfortunately led him to speak in faux-Brit accent drawn from his English soccer coach, the team’s Irish manager, every British football announcer he’s ever heard, and the entire cast of the “Harry Potter” movies. It’s atrocious.  He trots off the pitch field and says “mummy, I think I need new boots.”  Is it wrong that I pretend not to know him?

No matter what he does, Liam goes at it full tilt. I wonder sometimes if the sheer accident of his birth—being so tiny and having to fight so hard just to stay alive—created his forceful character: he’s still not much taller than his seven-year-old brother, but he’s got a personality the size of Russia.

Liam’s mind moves at a gallop; he says he resents sleeping because it’s a waste of time. I imagine that inside his brain it would be positively baroque, that it would look like a piece of music by Handel sounds: arpeggios, swoops, curlicues, all repeating around and around, building into something magnificent, symmetrical, and mathematically perfect.

This is a boy who never met a test he didn’t like (and master), and who believes in himself to a sometime absurd degree.  When he was six, after his first-ever ice skating lesson (during which he let go of the wall exactly twice) he said “mommy, I think I’ll make my living playing hockey.”  Hockey never materialized, thank god, but his confidence remains (mostly) unshakeable.

And while his competitive intensity does wonders on the playing field, or when it comes time to study for a school test, it’s a little less attractive when all you’re doing is gathering for a family game of Monopoly.  All games, for my darling boy, are blood sports. He doesn’t know how to turn it off.  If I have a specific worry for Liam—and parenting involves both the free-floating “what if” horror stories as well as child-specific anxieties–it’s precisely his intensity.  There are times when all his energy turns into anxiety, even a kind of frenzy:  forgot a math assignment? Death spiral. Can’t find the mouthpiece for his instrument? Utter disaster.  Forgot to bring in cookies for the bake sale? DESPAIR.  At some point, he’s going to have to find a bit of slacker in his soul—and when I tell him to relax, that maybe his quiz in gym (in gym??) doesn’t matter, he stares at me as if I’m the stoner hanging out in the bathroom instead of going to class. “Of course it matters, mommy.  Everything matters.”  His eyes fill with tears, his lip trembles, all the big-boy stuff melts away and for whatever reason, he’s worried and sad, and so I take him on my lap and rub his back.

I wonder how much longer he’ll let me do that?

a friend recently wrote a good book that challenges conventional wisdom about boys. It’s called Deep Secrets and it’s about the importance of deep, intimate friendships in boys’ lives. You should probably click right on over there to the Amazon portal and get yourself a copy…

Continue Reading · on November 20, 2011 in Children, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting

pre-teen hearing test

Scene: living room, homework time.

Me: That’s too loud.

Liam: oblivious

Me: Turn that down please.

Liam: oblivious

Me: Turn that DOWN.

Liam: But I’m wearing headphones  (tone: you unreasonable idiot)

Me:  Then you did hear me. Turn that music DOWN. You’re going to hurt your ears.

Liam: eyeroll and the sigh of long-suffering. Tinny drone diminishes infinitesmal notch.

It’s official: my son has become a pre-teen and I’ve become my mother.

Continue Reading · on November 20, 2011 in Children, growing up, Kids


Being on the road for a month has taken its toll on Liam. On all of us, really, but he’s been having what my mom calls “sinkers” on a pretty regular basis. If he were a girl, I’d say he’s getting his period, but he’s a ten year old boy, so I don’t think that’s the right explanation.

He loved Paris when we were there…until he hated the weird pizza, the strange hot dogs, and the bizarre toilet flushing mechanisms.  And he thought London was great, until confronted by traffic patterns and crosswalks that didn’t make any sense (to him), milk that didn’t taste like the milk at home, and more toilets with bizarre flushers.

At the root of his sinkers, of course, is a mixture of homesickness and anxiety. He misses his friends terribly and has written them postcards and emails, but you know? Ten year olds just don’t find much solace in written communication. Their texts to one another are a mixture of insults and soccer scores.  He’s really worried about starting his new school in Abu Dhabi: the other kids will think he’s a freak because he’s so small (and here’s why) he won’t find a soccer team, he won’t make any friends, when he gets back to New York his soccer skills will have eroded so badly that he won’t be able to rejoin his travel team.

The poor guy: I think his mental image of “London” was just a series of green fields filled with kids playing soccer and that he could just wander over and join a game. Alas, despite all time we’ve spent in parks, both here (and in France), we’ve not seen anyone playing soccer.

On the one hand, I want to shake him and say that pizza tastes weird because in Paris you’re not supposed to be eating pizza; crosswalks make sense for London traffic; hot dogs taste weird under the best of circumstances and milk is milk, so just shut up and drink it.  As for the funky toilets and why they can’t just flush like a good old US potty? I’ve got no answer for that.

On the other hand, of course, my heart cracks for him. It’s hard to live out of a suitcase for any length of time and to do so with the knowledge that you’re not going “home” but to yet another strange place is even harder. And of course he’s worried about starting a new school—we’re all worried about what’s next.

When he crashes and cries, snuffling into his pillow about being scared and lonely and sad, I sit next to him on the bed, rub his back, and tell him it’s all going to be okay, that we’re sure he’s going to make friends, find soccer, like his new school.

Usually I can soothe him to sleep and when he wakes up the next morning, his world looks less gloomy.

His anxieties feed my own, though, so that I lie awake in the dark while every terrible possibility (terribility?) floats through my head and the “what ifs” ricochet around my brain.

I’m sure it’s all going to be fine, I tell myself in the morning.

But in the middle of the night, I think, “what if it’s not?”

Continue Reading · on August 7, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, family, growing up, Kids, Parenting, Travel

Wordless Wednesday

So I know there aren’t supposed to be words, but without words, you won’t know what I’m holding: these are the diapers we used on Liam when he was first born. I’d forgotten that I’d saved a few of these and they surfaced when I was packing for the move.  Amazingly, these diapers swamped my tiny boy’s body.

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Continue Reading · on July 13, 2011 in birth, Children, preemies, wordless wednesday

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