Cleaning Up After Yourself, Or, Saturday Morning At 9:19am

My son is home. Bringing his facial hair along, I might add.

If you have a small boy, take a minute to smooch his smooth and slightly chubby cheeks. Eventually mutation will occur and something akin to the Incredible Hulk, even if it’s short or skinny, will come bursting from your baby. That’s as it should be, but still puzzling to mothers. We remember their little soft necks.

For better or worse, one can’t rely on wistful memories of toddler tummies to ensure good parenting of adult children. Those big grown ups in your living room present you with new issues. Some you could have foreseen, some surprises.

This summer I look forward to several months spent with my son. I plan to teach him life skills, to prepare him for college graduation next year. For example, cooking.  I also want to institute the “Floors Are For Walking On Not For Storing Your Clothes” program.

His future plans include a vagabond couple of years. I find that vagabonds are welcome guests if they can cook you dinner and clean up after themselves. He’s already very good at saying please and thank you. A moment of self-congratulations for having gotten that bit nailed down early.

For myself, because with adult children you do, finally, get to have goals for yourself in the relationship, I want to keep moving towards authenticity. Towards using a voice of one adult to another. Never forgetting, of course, that one adult is the other one’s mother.

After the divorce, I lost my nerve. I want it back.

What I mean to say is that in years past, once I survived the early, overwhelming, figuring it out, stage of parenting, I was a fairly calm mother. I felt I knew what I was doing, that I had done the absolute best I could. I felt I was justified in what I asked of my children, and comfortable in what I provided.

The divorce threw a wrench into those works. My guilt and sense of loss undermined my mother confidence.

I want it back.

In the years after the divorce I held my breath. Tried to give my kids room to recover. But I know that one never fully recovers. One just chooses the path one is on. I think it’s time for me to speak again like a mother who believes she has done right. At least I hope so. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I look forward to teaching my son to cook.  It’s knowledge I know will be useful.

I might also learn to stop burning my arms, currently blotched with red welts from hot splashing coconut oil. I might invest in good oven mitts.

At the same time, I hope my personal agenda stays just out of sight. Of course, since my son reads this blog, I’ve blown my cover just a bit. First point, authenticity. But I don’t want any big And Now I Am Becoming Myself drama. Too embarrassing. I’d rather just  stand a little more stable on my own ground every minute and then the next. Hit my marks. I imagine them like the tracks of a vacuum cleaner in carpet.

As the mom your first responsibility is constancy. But you have to also make sure that the inner self never gets left behind. This can be difficult, given all the work of constancy. It’s OK. It isn’t perfect. We can clean up after ourselves.

There is simply no book, no lesson plan, no methodology. All we’ve got is our willingness to pay attention and the twin gifts of feet. Security and mobility. Stand comfortably, shuffle to the left, stand comfortably.

Have a wonderful weekend.

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  • vagabonds are welcome guests if they can cook you dinner and clean up after themselves. He’s already very good at saying please and thank you.

    There are friends I welcome with open arms and others I think, “Oh, how I love your friendship but how could you have reached this age without learning basic houseguest manners?”

    The guests who don’t leave their wet towels on the floor and don’t use up all the gas in your car and don’t leave their Burger King bags in your back seat – those guests are a dream.

    I don’t even care if someone cooks dinner for me – just hang up your towels and put your trash in the trash can. The bar is pretty low.

    11:38 am
    Danielle said...

    As a former vagabond I strongly agree that cooking and cleaning can make all the difference. I bet he and his future hosts will be grateful to you for these lessons.

    Glad to hear you are re-discovering your confidence :) You seem like such a caring and considerate mother.

    12:43 pm
    Jeanna said...

    As the mother of a six-year-old boy (who is pretty good at saying please and thank you!), this post tugged at my heartstrings.

  • I always enjoy your perspective. You give me insight, and hope for the future, and for these things, I thank you. Now I have a smooth chubby cheek to go kiss . . . At this young age, I already see the changes. As it should be, as you say. Enjoy your time with your son.

  • Mine are 24 next month. I’ve found I can slip into the friend role unselfconsciously but sometimes deliberately marshal the persona of Your Mother. Find it helpful to announce the arrival of that voice: “I’m now going to say something As Your Mother. Increasing the limit on your Visa before you have another part-time job is worrying me and I hope you don’t do it.”

    As for bringing our own stuff to them, would not worry unless you hit Mommy Dearest-land, which I don’t think is you.

    Clean Up Your Own Mess is good principle for any guest, whether family member or friend.

  • Loved reading this. Son2 comes home next week and I have to start thinking about all of our transitions. It takes about 2 days I think. Of course the laundry on the floor never gets completely taken care of because he gets that nasty habit from me. Son1 graduated a year ago today and that reminds me think how fast this year has gone by. A year from now I’ll be where you are looking ahead to that senior year. It makes me feel exposed and unprepared. How about you? :)

  • I just love this! My son is getting married in October….finally……after years of upheaval and dangerously moving from child to man. He will be 27 a few days after the wedding. I always knew the sweet child was in there somewhere. Somtimes he would slip up and let me see in. But there were many dark and scary sections of his path. I tried different ways to help him but eventually I decided I needed to just let go and wait.

    Within the past two years he has blossomed into the strikingly handsome, caring, compassionate man I always believed was in there….who still has a soft spot in his heart for me. Plus I now have the bonus of adding his thoughtfully and lovingly chosen wife and her daughter to our family. It was SO much worth the wait!

  • “All we’ve got is our willingness to pay attention and the twin gifts of feet. Security and mobility.”


    Enjoy dancing with your son, Lisa.

  • What would I be if I hadn’t been brave enough to become a mother? “Broken Open” can only describe so well. Little one is three, second is on the way. Mom and Dad are both studying to complete graduate degrees … one more year.

    I love your insight on being a mother … not too squishy and filled with “expectation”, but SO real.

    Cheers from further up the left coast … where it’s sunny and warm today!

    Enjoy every second with that boy!

  • Lovely post.
    So interesting for me, my son is 18 and leaving for University in the Fall. What will our relationship look like as he grows older?
    I do hope I can someday cure him of The Floor-drobe!

  • My firstborn will be 34 next September. I find it hard to believe. She has lived away from home nearly 14 years, and every time she comes over, it seems as if she never even left us. Her things are scattered in no time all over my clutter-free home zone. And I bite my tongue. Such a silly reason to get upset about. After all, I am a snappy cleaner and have plenty of time to clean up afterwards.
    Funny, but when I visit her place, everything is in top condition!
    Thanks for your interesting post!

  • My son is 32. It took a few weeks of reflection, but I came to the conclusion that what you’re pondering (I did too) doesn’t really matter. In our children’s eyes, we’re their mother, no matter what. No matter what we’re feeling or thinking or doing, we’re just plain and simple, mother.

    The only thing expected of us is love and acceptance and to just be there for them. Everything else is trivial.

    Just sit back and have a good time, just enjoy them. You don’t have to teach them a thing, they learn by example. No matter the silence, deep down they desire to be like you and one day they’ll look in the mirror and realize they are.

    My son once told me that he learned how to enjoy life from me. That was a shocker. Never would have guessed that he’d learned such a thing from me. But I guess the years he learned that were the ones when I wasn’t worried about parenting, I was just enjoying.

    Tomorrow will take care of itself. All is well. Peace. Breathe. Enjoy.

  • Just beautifully written, Lisa. I mothered three sons, one who passed away three years ago at age 27. The other two are now 33 and married, 26 and single. I could hate myself and deplore my mothering instincts and abilities about the loss of son #2 to prescription drug abuse. Then I look at the other two who are loving and self sufficient young men with so much to offer the world. All this as a single mother, as their father died 12 years ago. I understand about holding your breath. I’ve let it go now.

  • Dear Lisa, I love your wise Saturday posts. Your phrase, “..I want to keep moving towards authenticity” resonates with me. My brother, 17 years my junior, came to live with my husband and me when he was twenty with a strong need for mothering. I used to be filled with such worry about him and an accompanying sense of inadequacy to fix what needed fixing. However, this past week as I helped him remotely with a job application I reflected on what a beautiful, kind and wellbalanced person he has become and I see what has developed between us has been mutual respect and appreciation. Mind you, his grammar and spelling still have me tearing my hair out. Have a lovely Summer with your boy and don’t be in such a hurry in the kitchen – less burns! Lindaxxx

  • I’m with LP.

    You’ll always be the mother and the most powerful thing you can do is to lead by example.

    In the case of socks all over everywhere and empty Dorito chip bags on the floor I think the best example is to stand up for yourself.

    On the cooking front I think teaching breakfast skills is most important. A lot of money can be conserved, an essential vagabond skill, by making breakfast at home.

  • As the mom of two grown sons, I understand what you are saying. I find that I listen a lot. So far, I’ve been so pleased at the lessons they learned–whether or not I am the teacher they followed.

    I hate to hear that you lost your confidence. That makes me sad. I’m glad you are getting it back.

  • I wouldn’t have thought it possible for you to lose your nerve! You will most definitely get it back I think, as you already have the full respect of your children. My kids are 32 and 26 now. One was always a neat nick and the other the messy but they’re both super neat nicks now. I hope I didn’t over do it but love visiting their domiciles.

  • Lisa

    Like many others, I really enjoy and respect your perspective.

    Thank you. For now, I’ll store them in my memory for that time when they may apply to my life.

    Have a lovely day

    SSG xxx

  • Hello Lisa,

    I’m around the same age as your children, a little younger, and I find your perspective towards parenthood invaluable. Being an only child, I want to be a source of pride and joy to my parents, but often I fail to what my parents truly feel and want. Living away from home (I moved to Sydney for university) makes this even more difficult. Your observations while your children are at home, are eye opening insights to my parents minds, and I feel as though I can serve my parents better.

    I really do appreciate you opening your thoughts and I want to say thank you for sharing yourself here.

  • I loved this post. Such good advice about consistancy and remaining authentic to your voice. “Floor-robes” are the Devil’s work.

  • Great post. I love the increasing confidence you have found during the time you have been blogging! Have a great summer with your son.

  • How wonderful to have him back for the summer…

    I know my adult children have a thing or two to teach me as well.

  • Oh yes! Teaching cooking please. I didn’t and I have the Visa bills that add up with every meal picked up or taken out for the past 8 years (you do the math! I can’t quite bring myslef to add it all up.) He is a stressful profession but had I taught him (would have been 18 when he left the house for university then med school< Besides the food cost in that manner, I think cooking or food prep can be a nice slow-down part ot the day (or a break) for them..How I wished I had been clever enought to teach my son to cook! Enjoy. XO

  • Lisa,

    It is hard to anticipate what we are expected to be..
    moms, friends, advisors…
    I need to wait and see.

    I am happy to hear that you are enjoying some time with your son…

    mine is safely home after having just pitched his new software product in San Francisco.

    they are never too old for a hug!

  • Such a thoughtful post…your a great mom! And yes, please…if a young man can learn to cook and pick up after himself, his future wife will thank you for the rest of her life.
    It sounds like your ‘nerve’ is back…and it’s probably better, stronger, and wiser than before.
    xo J~

  • This really made me think.

    My son is 20 months and it is so all consuming, what with all the soft chub to smoosh, that we don’t often stop and think about what parenting lies ahead. In fact, we joke about the the days when he will no longer need us in the same capacity.

    Thank you for reminding me that you always need your parents. If only to make sure you tidy up after yourself.

    Here’s to courageous mothering.

  • My son is 6 and I am working on the laundry on the floor thing. I still hold out hope that he’ll “get it” by the time he’s 20. My daughter is 4 and she never leaves laundry on the floor. A gender thing, you think?

  • Don’t be afraid of blowing your cover. Think of it as role-modeling, your important parental job. I come right out and tell my kids that I am role-modeling when they catch me distributing life lessons like treats. They appreciate the surrealality. Good luck on building the mother chops. For me, it worked out that I learned new keys and cords that were, in fact, better than the old tunes I lost when our family split to pieces. It can go anywhere you take it, is the good news. Smile.

  • Ah yes, the floor, or as my stepson used to call it “my horizontal closet”.
    Hard after a divorce to not let your guilt and sense of loss for your children change your parenting some. I too had to get my “nerve” back, but I did and feel I have a truly authentic relationship with my 28 year old daughter.
    Thanks for the great post!

  • Just found your blog and love it. I’m going through much of the same stuff, with two daughters home for the summer. It’s fun and useful to compare notes! Have a great summer with your son.

  • I agree with some of the girls who’ve said “let it be.” For me, this has been difficult, especially when I see them make mistakes which could have been avoided, and taking decisions without all the facts.
    However, one thing I definitely agree with is that to “all” of them we are “mother.” The bottom line here is that fact. And, I’ve learned that eventually they soak up everything you teach them, even if it takes a long time. Every facet of them reflects us. I see people all around who have MAJOR problems with their kids, mostly adult kids, where I’ve had none. So hard work and doing the right thing does pay off. It’s just really very very hard. Stay true to yourself, Lisa. That is the best example anyone can show their children, no matter the age.

  • How completely on trend you always are!
    I have just concluded a heated discussion with my son, Conrad. My husband and I implored him to help us sort though and organize his closet today or no DVM tomorrow. He just turned 18 last Thursday. (He pilots a plane but never felt the need to drive a car until now. Urban kid + boarding school. He got a summer job that will pay more if he has his driver’s license so it’s all suddenly very urgent What a great bargaining chip.
    I will try to implement the clean floor/closet/bathroom educational program this summer as well but fear I might end up bald.
    One of my dearest friends has a saying, “At some point your role as parent transitions from manager to consultant.” Am I there yet?

  • hi lisa,

    what a poignantly written post. i can relate to everything you wrote. esp. the part about authenticity. it’s like i’m compelled to settle into my authentic self right now. my job of mommy is over but i will always be their mom, maybe that’s why i feel this way. don’t know for sure. thanks.


  • Great post, m’dear. Beautifully written, thoughtful to say the least, and genuine. Graceful, too. But having had the “privilege” of meeting you, I’m not in the least surprised. Thanks, Reggie

  • Lovely and well written and moving and honest and thoughtful . . . as your Saturday posts so often are. We had a couple of hours with our son and his GF yesterday in his city — such a joy to be shown around, directed to good eats, etc., by someone I remember before there was the firm jaw, the manly voice, the late-afternoon stubble, the height . . .

  • I am usually a lurker – enjoy your blog without paying homage – but this one was such a gem that I couldn’t not respond. I love how you write about everything, particularly your relationship with your children as a mother. Simply beautiful. As a solo mother of a 9 year old, my heartfelt thanks!

  • I love this post! I have a 3 yr old with a “softie cheek” (his own words) that I kiss as often as possible – before it passes into “man” territory.

    Son already picks up after himself & even puts husband’s ties away. One thing nailed.

    What happens to little boys who can admire Mum’s blue dress & pink earrings at 3 – but will most likely grow colour blind after 30? There should be a way to bottle that appreciation!!

  • Lisa – I purchased lovely amethyst earrings from beladora last week & got a 10% discount thanks to you. Much appreciated.

  • Class factotum – I’ll focus on remedial towel picking up:).

    Stephanie – Thank you very much. I’m sure you relish that cheek.

    Duchesse – I do the exact same thing – except I’ll make the maternal pronouncement, and then say, slightly sotto voce, “said the mother.” Interesting that we are now managing two character selves.

    Pink Martinis – I have felt somewhat unprepared too. I think that’s why I cottoned on to teaching him how to cook. How is Son 1 doing? Enjoying grad school?

    Danielle – I appreciate the confirmation of my vagabond theory:). And anxiety gets in the way for so many of us in so many ways.

    Kitty – Oh congratulations! How wonderful. I wish you and your son and his fiance all the best.

  • Pam – Ah. Thank you. Yes, it’s a dance.

    Jennifer – Congratulations on the advent of your second. Thank you – I think after the realities of motherhood, neither too squishy nor too complaining is right, hence my tone. Good luck with the degrees. How great to get that under your belt.

    DaniBP – Thank you. Won’t you miss him so much?

    Mette – So she relapses to childhood, relying on your snappy cleanup. What a great luxury for her, and how nice to have learned, as we do, when to hold our tongues and when to speak.

    LP – Oh it’s taken more than a few weeks around here:). Were I the sort who could sit back, I would take your very wise advice. Your son must have picked something true up – you have a capacity to enjoy life. My primary skills are in analyzing and communicating, so I have to figure out a way to have parenting confidence in that context. I very much appreciate your final sentence. I will repeat it to myself every day.

    Marguerite – Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am so, so sorry for your losses, first your husband, then your son. Addiction is an unmanageable demon. I am very glad you could move on. I wish you and your sons much happiness.

  • Linda in Chile – I will try to slow down. I had gotten so used to instinctive cooking. As my reflexes have slowed, I need to get workarounds. Nice metaphor, huh?:P

    RoseAG – Saving money is key. And breakfast cooking is probably the easiest of all – once you get a few basic skills down. Good advice. I thank you.

    Susan – It made me sad to lose my confidence too. As it makes me happy to regain it. And, yes, this. “So far, I’ve been so pleased at the lessons they learned–whether or not I am the teacher they followed.”

    Susan Tiner – I will be curious to see the neatnik-ness over the years:). And I lost my nerve because I cared so much and was dealing with my own feelings about my parents’ divorce. Oh well, right?

    SSG – Thank you so much. I wish you luck and send you qi.

    Jessica – That means a lot. You are more than welcome. This territory isn’t terribly well-mapped.

  • FF – Thank you. I could send my son to you for 6 months, you know, once he learns to cook. You can finalize his training:).

    DocP – Interesting you noticed that. Yes, the blogging has been a real place to find confidence. Funny that, put yourself out there, even the bad stuff is good. If that makes sense.

    Terri – Oh yes. That they do, whether it’s easy or not.

    A Gift Wrapped Life – You know, I hadn’t thought of that. But cooking, once you know how, is a great meditative past-time and good for stress relief as well as saving money. Congrats on your son the doctor:).

    Hostess – Congrats on your son’s software pitch! I wish I could have been there to hear it as a fly on the wall. Software is such a satisfying domain. And thank you. They are never too old for a hug.

    Jessica – Thanks! My son’s future partner better appreciate this and be really nice to me:). I can only hope my current nerve catches up to what it used to be.

  • Laura Aziz – Here’s to courageous mothering. Exactly. And to keeping that spark alive, from that time when it’s all consuming. Your voice gives me courage.

    Buckeroomama – I really wonder. Hunters vs. gatherers? Or role-modelled by parents? These are the kinds of things that science just can’t explain. Drat.

    Laura – Absolutely. Building those mother chops back up. In a voice that reflects who I am in this new world. Which is better, no question, and I just have to take it back into my mothering. Thank you.

    Kathy – Ha! The Horizontal Closet. The Floor-drobe. Thank you for the affirmation, given especially that you are further down the path.

    Sue – Welcome! Enjoy your daughters too.

    Marsha – I am realizing that I didn’t attribute enough weight to the role of mother, assuming more that I had to earn my stripes with expertise at every moment. That’s the perspective of my culture, and one that should be put aside.

  • Caron – On trend. Ha! I have definitely transitioned from manager to consultant. Now I have to make sure I’m the McKinsey of consultants, not a second-tier firm. And it’s always about confidence…

    Janet – So that’s it. I’m not mommy, and am now discovering the authentic mother. So well said. Thank you.

    Reggie – Thank you very much. Highly appreciated, coming from you.

    Mater – Oh the jaw, the jaw, the jaw.

    Latha – Welcome. Feel free to lurk, glad you commented:). Enjoy your 9 year old and thank you for finding this valuable. Makes it worthwhile, you know?

    AN – A “softie cheek.” Iyeeeee! How cute. I find the 5-year old appreciation returns, changed, still very sweet. And I am so pleased you got some Beladora earrings and am honored to have provided the discount.

  • Dear Lisa

    I confess I was touched when – many posts ago – you mentioned being ashamed of not having been able to make your marriage work. In my counseling training we learned that what really proves your mettle is how you deal post-trauma. It has always moved me how fairly and lovingly you speak of your parents and their new partners who chose the same path. What makes you think that your children haven’t learned tolerance and the priceless ability to deal with life’s ambiguities without losing love and respect from your example?

  • Poetry. Thank you for giving us a more personal peek into those inner tracks.

    At the risk of sounding sentimental, I’m going to spend an extra minute sniffing my near-toddler (!) boy’s delicious noggin tomorrow morning.

  • This really struck a chord with me, so interesting. Planning to feel my boys’ smooth cheeks when they come in from school (though may have to do so by stealth). xx