vol. 2, #12, August, 1996
I organize my work with "To Do" Lists--do binding preparation, prepare new journal holdings lists, write new handouts on "How To Use Netscape", and such. It gives me a sense of accomplishment each time I put a check in one of those little boxes beside each item and pat myself on the back for a job well done.
But on the cosmic "To Do" list, "Raise Son" has for the past 22 years been the overarching goal, the organizing principle of my life. I am now putting a check mark in that box, too. Brian is going off to graduate school in Boston, to get his teacher's certification, and, he hopes, to spend his life there.
He's been gone before, to be sure, when he went off to college. But this is the real thing, as in, permanent. The last shred of the umbilical cord is gone, to be replaced by telephone wire and e-mail. He might, of course, visit every Christmas.
Need I say that my feelings about this are complicated?
I'm not going to miss the mess--the piles of clothing and size 13 shoes lying around, the piles of books and magazines and CDs (only half of which are mine). My 800 square feet of house will seem a little closer to enough when it's not storing all his worldly belongings as well as mine, and when it's not occupied by this six foot tall creature who bounds and gangles and flops and spreads himself out (he may not actually pee to mark his boundary lines, but he's very territorial).
But I am going to miss him. I'm going to miss him for the things that all families are supposed to do for each other. He's my biggest fan, and I am his. I remind him that he is bright and talented, loved and lovable, and he returns the favor.
I told him, once, when I was desperately worried about him, that he had to take care of his health because I had had to spawn in order to get somebody who understood me. I personally warped him, teaching him to laugh at my jokes, to appreciate puns, and to create his own. I taught him to recognize absurdity, so that when we're watching TV and the announcer says "Tired of unmanageable hair? Get rid of it forever with..." we both burst out laughing. I had to suffer through a few years of knock-knock jokes and other really awful puns before he became genuinely witty, but the investment paid off. He always makes me laugh.
Not only does he come up with wonderfully funny, off-the-cuff lines, but he also writes well. When he was in high school, he wrote for the student newspaper, everything from very passable Dave Barry imitations to serious essays (including one on censorship of rock music, which, by the time the editor got through with it, was largely composed of censored out words) . His poems are dense, almost syrupy in their word-thickness, kind of what Gerard Manley Hopkins would have written if he had less religion and more humor, and if he'd written less about dappled things and more about schoolyard bullies. Like me, Brian, has gotten into the business of writing on the web, submitting music reviews on Firefly and writing criticism for an online science fiction encyclopedia.
I used to tell people that if I'd had a kid who didn't read, I would have had to drown him. I think Brian understood that this was a joke, but to be on the safe side, he read a lot. He'd develop an interest in something, and for six months, he would find out everything he could about it, and then he'd go on to the next obsession. I would check out piles of books for him and get out of his way. It wasn't that long before we went from me telling him what books to read, to him telling me what books to read. (It's thanks to his insistence that I read Orson Scott Card's wonderful Ender's Game, and I thank him for making me.)
LIke me, he is a word child. It irks me that, though I clearly know a lot more words than he does, he still routinely beats me at Upwards and Scrabble and other word games, because he is so much better than I am at strategic thinking. (I stopped playing chess with him when he was eleven and I had not won any of the previous 60 games.) He's also far more devious, and spends a lot of time trying to convince me that certain words that do not exist, but would net him humongous amounts of points, should exist. (He's come up with some splendid words at that, like nobit: an elegiac tribute to a person who hasn't actually died yet.)
Whenever either of us put together a particularly striking or bizarre phrase, we look at each other and say, as one, "Great name for a rock band." Or album title. There's a long story behind this one, but, suffice it to say, that if you ever see an album titled Protected from Spinach, check the credits--Brian will have had something to do with it.
Brian helps me think. He's my first critic on these columns, and not shy about telling me when they aren't entirely lucid. He shares a lot of my interests, so we talk endlessly about politics and popular culture and ethical issues and teaching. Since he reads widely, his opinions are knowledgeable and thoughtful. This means, of course, that our conversations often give rise to my columns in the first place. Unlike me, he studied economics, so he often incorporates this wholly alien (to me) perspective into our discussions. He also has a much more mathematical mind than I do, so he has this annoying way of shooting down some of my favorite theories with his knowledge of statistics. (And no matter what he says, I still think the Bradford distribution explains 80% of life, but that's another column.)
A true son of his father, Brian is musically gifted. He, like many of his generation, has a mind that can process multiple tracks simultaneously, so he understands what's happening in all the different tracks in musical pieces. He wants to do something with that, someday, write and produce rock music. In the meantime, he listens to all kinds of music and insists I listen to it, too, stretching my musical tastes so that my CD collection is getting ever larger and stranger and more unsuited to a middle-aged lady.
He won't let me act middle-aged in any way at all. If I start getting too "put-your-galoshes-on", he gets this utterly disgusted look on his face, and if I start to harrumph, or say the magic words "In my day...", he says "Aw, MAHHHHhhm, Jeez, listen to yourself."
It's not like we're going to stop being friends when he goes away. We'll be on the phone a lot, and he'll get an e-mail account, which will be much handier. The last time he went away, when he was in college, I would have to save up things I wanted to tell him for our twice-weekly phone conversations, and jot down notes to remind myself about the funny things that happened between calls. With e-mail, I can just dash them off as they occur to me.
What I'll miss is the routine, day-to-day entertainment, the improvised jokes and good lines. Hardly anyone I know matches him for conversation. I'll miss having someone there whose life gets better just because I walk in the door at night--the cat doesn't count.
The plus side of losing him is checking off that box on the to-do-list. Of all the things I've done in my life, Brian is what I'm proudest of. He's certainly what took the greatest amount of time and work and emotion and thought. And though I am gaining a modest amount of fame on the internet, for this column, for my other column, BookBytes, and for my web index, Best Information on the Net, I know that my real claim to fame, someday, will be that I'm the mother of Brian Friedrichsen Block. (Not that I, or his father, can take all the credit-- once you've given a kid the basic building blocks of identity, the child starts raising himself.) I don't know what he'll be famous for, whether it's for his music, or because he succeeds in his other career goal--becoming a benevolent despot-- but keep that name in mind--you will be hearing from him.
So, bon voyage, kid. You're almost all the way to grown-up. And you made a really good job of it.
Bradford distribution: 20% of X accounts for 80% of Y, as in
20% of scholarly journals account for 80% of use of scholarly journals
20% of criminals account for 80% of crime
20% of domains account for 80% of web use (Yahoo, MIT, AltaVista, etc.)
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NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at netexpress.net. Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.
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