By ALEXI VENICE
Expressing the mix of dread and hope of mothers around the world: My 21-year-old daughter, who I will call Bootie Pepper, has a serious boyfriend! Don’t get me wrong, I want her to experience all the joy and elation that life has to offer, including romance (yuck). I just don’t want to know the details; and don’t want her heart to get broken.
She started dating this young man, who I will call The Pitcher, five years ago, when they were both sophomores in high school. At that time, I was cautious about investing any smidgeon of emotion in a potential friendship with him because who knew how long this kid would be around? I’m not sure this was the right approach because he was a little afraid of me, thinking I was cold and analytical. “Guilty as charged.” I can be analytical. Not cold, though. I try not to be cold. Although my Scandinavian heritage produced a resting bitch face that’s sometimes severe.
The Pitcher was also aware that we don’t entertain much. Having people over makes me nervous—and it’s a lot of work. I have to tidy up the house and make food, buy beverages, and generally be a good hostess, which means carrying on a conversation for a sustained period of time. For a person who likes five-minute conversations, talking to someone for more than an hour is difficult for me. And, having people in the house is LOUD. I mean, everyone talking at once pushes the volume level to an uncomfortable degree. Not good mojo for introverts.
In fact, a trait my brothers and I share, in addition to flexing our ankles like swimming ducks while we sleep, is that we’ll walk away from you—mid-sentence—if we get antsy. How rude, right?! Moreover, 28 years of practicing law has conditioned me to sit in meetings for approximately one hour; then the meeting wraps up and everyone leaves. Perfect! Also, no one talks over each other in our meetings, so only one person is talking at a time—which keeps the volume low. If anyone is too loud at our work, someone else will undoubtedly say, “Let’s use our inside voices.” So, perhaps I’m introverted and socially awkward, which can come off as cold, even though I’m really not cold, just introverted (and easily bored).
Much to my surprise and relief, however, The Pitcher turned out to be a really nice kid, entering our small family of three—only a year after our son died—coming for dinner, cheering us up with good conversation about sports and current events, never getting up from the table without clearing dishes, and making our daughter very happy. When he entered her life, the lights seemed to turn on in her world, and they haven’t turned off since.
I held back a large part of me for too long before I embraced The Pitcher (both literally and figuratively). I suspect I didn’t want to transfer my feelings for my departed son to this newcomer. In retrospect, maybe I held off too long. A year or so ago, I finally opened up and told this young man, very casually, that I loved him. I think he and Bootie Pepper were leaving for a party, and I said, “Love you guys. Be safe.” (I hope he understood that I was including him in the “love you” part of “love you guys.” I didn’t want to be more direct than that. Yuck.) Once I learned that saying, “love you guys” didn’t result in any pain for me, I became braver told him we loved him when he and Bootie would drive back and forth from college.
Things progressed during their college years, so when we started going on holidays together, I treated The Pitcher like a member of the family—like a son, I admit—and the earth didn’t spin out of orbit, and my heart didn’t shatter into a million pieces.
Now, I greet The Pitcher with a hug and a “love you,” and say goodbye with a hug and a “love you,” and it seems so natural. He hasn’t broken my daughter’s heart, and last time I checked, mine either. I couldn’t ask for a better young man to be my daughter’s boyfriend throughout high school and college, and recently told his parents as much while we were watching him pitch at a college ball game. I suppose I should tell him that, too. Or, maybe that would be too awkward. I’ll suggest he read this blog post. Communicating through the written word is so much easier than verbally.
When we were on holiday in Scotland a few summers ago, I wrote a poem about one of our hikes with The Pitcher and Bootie. (I sort of dabble with poetry, mostly to add to my novels.) The four of us trekked several miles to a small lake in the highlands named Loch na Pollach. The poem has some Scottish slang in it, but you’re just one Google click away from satisfying your curiosity.
Loch na Pollach
The sun shone off yellow gorse,
And a breeze the midges did rout.
Encouraging the travelers of four,
To create bonds in search of trout.
Testing their mettle against the heather,
Their goal the top of the munro.
Two men (one father and one friend),
Trailed by mother-daughter duo.
A painstaking trek up the gorge,
The younger couple sure of foot.
Father with walking sticks in hand,
Mother struggling not to caput.
Once they conquered the crest,
Before them was Scottish bucolic.
A lake they swam and fished,
Its moniker Loch na Pollach.