Reflections of My Son at the Rock-N-Roll Show

Reflections of My Son at the Rock-N-Roll Show

BHJ:Son B&W

My son will be 16 later this month and, man, it’s tough to avoid clichés about the passage of time. One minute I’m wiping his ass and then, the next, I’m standing next to him on a sidewalk in Grand Rapids, Michigan, waiting in line to see a rock concert. You never see it coming, you don’t think, “Eh, this’ll pass and soon we’ll go see shows together and speak in awed tones about how hard the drummer for Listener hits his drums.” But perhaps this is best. This not knowing. Grabbing the next diaper is not, in itself and always, without joy. Stay true to the ebb or the flow with no eye to their opposites. Just wipe.

And then one day he’ll be 16, wearing an orange hoodie and a t-shirt depicting a comic book character you’ve never heard of, and his hair will be in his eyes; you’ll catch yourself muttering boy needs a haircut, kids, bah. He’ll be sarcastic and witty and he’ll make you laugh, no longer merely because he’s cute, but because he’s really, really funny. He’ll shave the whiskers off his face, wipe himself, and, because the sun will hit him just right and create a perspective much more broad and encompassing than that of your immediate concerns, you’ll think My God I have loved participating in the process of your becoming a man. Who are you? Where did you go, Little Boy? If I… could put time… in a bottle…

But these lofty bird’s eye reflections will soon give way to your entry into the small concert venue and the dissonance of being at a rock concert with your son. Dissonance, because you go to concerts with your outlaw friends where the music is loud, the message is defiant, and the atmosphere fosters chaos—the delightfully scary knowledge that anything goes and everything is permitted. But your son? You chase him as he runs toward the street. You tell him to say no to drugs and to use condoms—that is, only, of course, IF he’s having sex. (Is he having sex?!?) You make him eat vegetables and do homework and listen to his mother. But music—loud good music, no matter what it says, always says “WAHHHHHHHH, YEAHHH BAYBAYYYYY. KICK KICK snare drum drum DRUM—CRASH!!! YOUR DAD IS… DUMBBBBBBBBB. He’s an ASS ASS ASS.” Or what have you. And it is here, at the crossroads of this contradiction, where the essence of my conflict as a father finds its expression.

I despise authority. I am the authority. To hell with me! Better listen to me! And on and on until I just kind of cancel myself out and either the ebb ebbs or the flow flows and all I do is notice my son tapping his foot and nodding his head. And he’s smiling, but not in a simple happy kind of way. It’s more akin to a deeply satisfied smile that has just now stumbled into the realm of a very old and precious secret. A drummer himself, he’s watching the drummer and nodding his head with every thump and crash. The drummer—he’s hitting the drums so hard that I wonder if he’s up to something more than making music. Somewhere, way beyond the song, he’s fighting an old fight inside himself, breaking down the walls of a jail that can’t hold him, and, like the rest of us, always, becoming someone else.

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Ann Hood: Exclusive Essay

Ann Hood: Exclusive Essay

How to Smoke Salmon

BC_FA2013_Final_layoutMy son Sam and I stand side by side in our tiny backyard in Providence, shivering. It’s late afternoon on New Year’s Eve, the sky a battleship gray and snowflakes falling furiously around us. I have to squint up all six feet five inches of Sam when I talk to him. At seventeen, although he is man-sized, he still has a round baby face and the final hurrah of blond in his darkening hair.

“Do we just stand here?” I ask Sam.

“We have to tend it,” he says.

It is the smoker I got for Christmas, and Sam and I are smoking all kinds of pork—loin, ribs, chops—for a New Year’s Eve supper. When I watched him start to put the smoker together, the instructions still in the box, I couldn’t help but remember all the Transformers and Leggos he used to construct without ever referring to the directions. Some things never change, I think as he adjusts air vents and reads the temperature dials. And other things, I think with a pang in my heart, change a lot. Like: the piles of college applications on the desk upstairs, the SAT study guide beside Sam’s bed, the schedule of auditions hanging on the kitchen bulletin board.

Soon, theater programs around the country will be sending Sam their decisions. Which means in the not so distant future, Sam will go away to college in Pittsburgh or Chicago or Ithaca. I swear, yesterday he had to stand on a stool to layer the sliced apples in the pan for apple crisp. I used to lift him into the grocery cart with one swoop, and teach him how to choose a ripe avocado.

Now he regularly makes polenta for dinner, bakes bouche de noels, feeds my husband and me almost daily.

“Needs more water,” Sam announces. He is blurry in the snow, moving back inside to refill the jug.

Eleven hours. That’s how long it took for that meat to smoke perfectly. At a certain point, I went back into the house, to the warmth of the fire in the kitchen fireplace. But Sam stayed out there, the snow becoming an official blizzard, the wind increasing. He learned how to use that smoker that night, and for months afterward he smoked clams and oysters, tomatoes and garlic for salsa, briskets and more ribs.

Spring came, and with it those college acceptances. I watched Sam’s face light up whenever an email dropped in his box with good news. He had wanted to be an actor since he was eight, and now he was on his way to a BFA program six hours from our home in Providence. For his own going away party, Sam smoked pork tenderloins. I looked out the kitchen window at him tending that thing. It was a mystery to me how it worked; I just let Sam be the smoke master. Around me, his half packed duffel bags lay on the floor. A box of books. Linens for his dorm room bed. The next day, our bellies full, we drove him to college.

The sadness that comes from your first child leaving home is, of course, not the saddest thing of all. But the ache, the sense that something is missing, the way you keep looking up, expecting him to burst through the door in his size 13 shoes, it is real. In an instant, family dinner changes, shrinks, quiets considerably. The smoker sits, alone and untended, amid the falling leaves. Then another winter, another snowstorm. But this time the smoker remains unused, half-hidden in snow.

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