I am looking forward to a small vacation with my son. In a few days we will head out to visit a city I lived in when I was young – and see plays and art and snow. It’s only a few days but it feels like a really big deal. He’s 26 and I don’t need a whole hand to count the vacations we’ve had together.
For years I was variously described as work-obsessed or passionate and driven or, in the opinion of a former partner, “seriously not fun”. I often listened to family members with half my mind. The other half was busy working out a way to get a bit more service out of the same dollar, figuring out how to soften up a community leader about immigration, planning the next board meeting, worrying about people who couldn’t pay their rent or buy school clothes for their kids. When my son wanted my attention he would start by saying “mom” quietly and I would answer vaguely, then he would just quietly repeat “Mom, Mom, Mom” and finally “No, really, Mom”. Meaning: I need your whole mind. He was very patient.
Once we were in a grocery store and I was worrying (obsessing) about the people in the store that couldn’t pay for all of their groceries. Watching as people put items back until they have just what they can afford totally melts me down. I started talking about it. My son said, “Mom, how about we just go to the grocery store without having a Neighborhood Centers moment.” Kindly patiently, in a ‘for your own good’ tone of voice.
Because of my work, my son has grown up among the most generous, caring and committed people in the city. He has watched child care centers be redeveloped, community centers be built, dollars and donated so people get an opportunity for a better life. Service and volunteering are what good people do as far as he knows and his standards for how we move through the world are higher than most. He has moved into the world now, serving and helping and volunteering. And yet, he is much savvier about people than many of our friends. He makes well-considered decisions before he opens his heart. We have very strong beliefs in our family and he is tough-minded about hard work. Honesty and integrity are his most important values and he doesn’t like even small compromises on these big ones. He’s faced more really tough challenges at 26 than lots of folks will ever face. And, he’s met them head on.
I’ve never met a mom – especially a single mom – who wasn’t a bit guilt ridden. It seems even when we experience a moment when we feel we’re doing a good job, something will remind us of our inadequacies. I regularly conjure up scenarios – memories of this or that I should have or could have or ought to have done – maybe be more fun, or pay attention. But then I look at my son and see what a loving, brave, generous person he is. I watch him make right choice after right choice. I see how the work of Neighborhood Centers has impacted him – not in some narrow and predictable way but in ways I could never have predicted.
So, this vacation is a small celebration of our small nontraditional family, of making it together and making a difference in a big city among caring generous people.