Brand building through storytelling

My son, myself

Scene: the head table at a very corporate luncheon. I’m perched next to the celebrity CEO, trying to eat my noodles without dropping any sauce onto my suit, when up comes a smiling young woman with a greeting I can’t resist: “You’re Ben’s mom!” She and my son are friends at work, and knowing this I feel suddenly at homel I’ll be talking to 1,000 people today, but I have only one child and nothing in my life has been more surprising—or rewarding—than being his mother.

I was expecting a girl because that’s what we had on my side of the family. My mother had two daughters; so did her sister and her mother. The fact that Grandma had also given bith to a son, perfectly formed but stillborn, seemed proof that we were destined to be female forever.

We had come to like our womanly traditions. In our family, girls had the best-dressed dolls in town because their mothers worked wonders with scraps of silk and lace. Girls poured out their hearts while their mothers stirred the family chicken soup, laced with barley and dill. Grandma tut-tutted when I confessed, on her first visit to see my husband and me, that I wasn’t making “our” soup for him. She forgave me, though, because of Ben. Bouncing my son on her generous lap, she called him a “mensch”—the Yiddish word for a life-loving man of integrity, tenderness and courage. She turned out to be right but I’m getting ahead of myself.

You never guess, when you’re dreaming of parenthood, how it’s going to transform your life. From your baby’s first nerve-shattering fever at 2 a.m. to your teenager’s first broken heart, it’s all new emotional territory. For me this newness was compounded by the simple fact of gender. Ben and I couldn’t play the games I’d played with my mother because he preferred trucks to dolls, especially when those trucks were crashing into each pther. I declared our home a gun-free zone, but Ben found a stick that he trained on imaginary foes with an air of gleeful menace. When he finally got his hands on a plastic gun, at age four or so, my disapproval seemed to amuse him. “I’m pretending it’s a stick!” he said.

For years my son was something of a mystery. I saw nothing of myself in his passions. One winter skating obsessed him. From the window of my home office, which faced a rink across the street, I would watch him go round for hours, his jacket a hypnotic blur of red. When spring came he took off on his bike for hours at a time, riding deep into far-flung suburbs just to see what was there. It was the first of his increasingly elaborate bikes, each requiring a bigger chunk of carefully saved allowance. He must have been 14 the day he came home in tears, his bike stolen while he admired the puppies in a pet store. I never even learned to ride a bike but I know what loss is and I ached for him.

Like any parent who has raised an adolescent, I’ve heard my share of slammed doors and been the target of countless withering looks. If you’ve always been your child’s confidante, the sudden estrangement stings. (My mother used to say of my own teen years: “I wished someone would take you away.”)

Yet I came to cherish Ben’s adolescence. What counts at this stage is not so much doing things with your child as being fully present with him in those moments when, out of the blue, he feels like talking. We talked—and sometimes argued—about everything from the politics of rap music to the turning points in friendship. Watching him define his values and strive to act on them, I discovered we weren’t so very different after all.

Now Ben has his own cherished son and another little boy is crashing his trucks in my living room. It’s not what I expected. But I’ve learned to like surprises.

First published in Chatelaine May 2002. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing.


Posted by Rona

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