Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jungle Plant

there's one in every litter

Remember looking at National Geographic magazine's pictures of jungle tribes?  Lying on the living room floor, your head bracing hand falling asleep, the scratchy carpet irritating the skin of your belly where your Hang Ten hand-me-down shirt had lifted up,  turning the slick pages with your functioning hand.  The smooth skinned naked natives with their blackened nub smiles both fascinated and repulsed.  The body manipulations: ritual tattooing, scaring, piercing and stretching of the dark jungle moist skin was so other, alien.  I thought about this as I seated myself at the dinner table on Christmas Eve, forcibly softening my squint of disapproval and holding my tongue in order to enjoy a rare visit from my eldest son.

to find some books on xeriparenting
Modestly pierced ears were pretty much unanimous at the table.  My scientist brother-in-law has tiny hoops in each ear, but my eldest son has surgical steel in various gages looping in and out in three different directions, plus rosewood bottle cap sized plugs in stretched lobes, but most festive is the thick shiny silver bull ring ending in double ball bearings dangling from his upturned nose, jewelry that would be more suited on a 350 pound Samoan, not my delicate featured, freckled, blue eyed Scot-Irish Neo Primitive. Plus I think we can all agree that white boy dreadlocks are unfortunate. Two ambitious rope heads are seated at our dinner table. Brothers, one dark, one red. Seeing them seated next to each other, eating only the quinoa salad, I recall rinsing playground sand and sweat from their toddler scalps as they battled with multiple Batman action figures – and me -  in the tub.  I would pour water from a Toy Story popcorn bucket as they covered their eyes with a washcloth, the stream pulling their ringlets down their backs as the suds were rinsed away. Now those curls are matted and hidden in rough ropes that smell worse than they look and include remnants of camp outs on Mount Tam, beads and feathers.  The elder, the redhead, ‘the Gingerdread Man’, has crafted his signature look into a dread mullet, cutting the front short, growing a pompadour, bleaching it, then shaving it down to a burr cut again, and with the red ropes pulled back, he passes as employable. 

The Gingerdread Man, as he sits here before me, is six months into what we are collectively agreeing to agree is a gap year. He left college after his freshman year and he is the only person at the table who is happy about this. His freshman year of college was a busy one.  While he did well academically, he also hopped freight trains, took up with a nefarious crew in Portland, can use the term ‘squat house’ with confidence, has earned an arrest record and he has three four DIY tattoos. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he hasn’t been wearing his retainer.

I’m enjoying Christmas Eve dinner with my family and baffled by my poseur Hobo. When he left school he and his tribe went on food stamps because they didn’t want to be tied down to summer jobs. He wanted to roam and since we, the evil fun oppressors wouldn’t be sponsoring his plan, well he showed us. He and I had a chat about integrity and I might have used the words ‘lacking a moral compass’ when I forgot to use my inside voice.

Willing to sleep in a squat house in Oakland or the joint custody tribal van rather than his bed in our home.  Opportunities rejected, intentionally festooned to appear unemployable, throwing himself headlong with gusto into risk laden situations, all the while knowing he has options.  His reality is his choice.
HoboCam Pic
My choice is to detach, and enjoy my dinner, sip my wine and breathe. I look at my kids and realize it was never my intention to raise house plants, children who fear the world and I cannot control his 20 year old choices. I am fascinated and repulsed. I say nothing. 

Mary Allison Tierney's essay The Gingerdreadman is included in the anthology Mamas Write, available at Amazon, or your local independent bookshop.


  1. I guess you have to let kids live their own lives when they're adults!

  2. What's the matter with kids these days? Man. I guess they make their own decisions, but I cringe with you.