Saturday, December 22, 2012

Marmalade Meg's Boot Camp for Broken Hearted Boys

On Wednesday my son got his first girlfriend. It still works the same way it did when I was a kid, a boy spends weeks or months working up the nerve to ask a girl to go with him, then the girl usually says yes, sometimes because she has been waiting weeks or months for him to ask her, and sometimes just because she doesn’t know what else to say...

Friday I took him to get his new girlfriend a Christmas present. He told me that he’d liked her for a long, long time. Probably, I think, that means since like October. He said he loves her. He asked for my help finding the perfect gift for her: something “small... not too much... but nice. I don’t want to get her something crappy.” Well, what does she like?  “She wears lipstick sometimes, but not very much.”  I see, so you’re thinking makeup?  “No,” he smiled sheepishly at his shoes.  Alright, what’s your budget?  He told me he had $60. I took him to my favorite little boutique, a tiny basement shop full of bright, ornate textiles and jewelry imported from all over the world. The gorgeous owner of the shop helped him select a pair of silver and turquoise earrings: small... not too much... but nice.  

A couple hours after we finished the hot cocoa he treated me to after our shopping, the girlfriend broke up with him. He had a girlfriend for two days. The duration of the relationship doesn’t lessen the impact of the blow. Nor does his age. As his mother, there is no pain from which I will not try to shield him... except this one. I would willingly throw myself in front of a train, a bullet, a stampede of rhinoceros to save him, and I’d be grateful for the opportunity to spare a life as magnificent and full of potential as his. But a broken heart? To deny him the opportunity to stand for a brief two days in that warm meadow, to feel love, even knowing that the hours of sunlight are waning, and that sooner or later the skies will grow dark and his heart will bruise at the loss of it? I’d never stand between him and that place.  I hate, really hate, that he is feeling rejected and confused. I know that he feels deficient, like he wasn’t good enough for her.  I know that this hurts, and in a very real way that should not be minimized or trivialized because of his age.  But I wouldn’t take it from him. He earned this badge. I’ll sew it on his sleeve. He did a brave thing, he asked a girl to go out with him, a girl he liked for a long, long time, a girl he loved. And she said yes, and he felt accepted and happy... for two whole days.  

How does a good mama console a child in the throes of his first desperate heartache? Off the cuff, my reaction is to help him play it down as no big deal, the first of many heartaches: Girls are fickle... the more you love the more you risk losing, and that is no reason to avoid it. That’s what makes it worth doing. But that doesn’t feel true when you’re the one aching. You’ll do about anything to ensure that you’ll never have to feel this way again. I can’t prove to him yet that falling in love and getting rolled by it have the same potential to awaken his spirit. Then there’s the old I know this hurts now but time will smooth it over, it won’t feel this way forever...  while I teach him to properly feed his feelings the way the heartbroken have been doing for centuries, with two fingers in a bowl of brownie batter and The Rolling Stones' Steel Wheels on the record player. I’m not so far removed from 12, nor from real heartbreak, to recall that time just stops in that place, that every minute is a torturous new wormhole back to the exact moment you heard those words: I don’t want you.

My best plan for him is to convince him that right now he should take care of the him that he is becoming. Okay, so right now you’re not irresistible to girls. You’re shy and awkward and you don’t know how to talk to them. You’re in the seventh grade and you feel like a complete misfit most of the time, right? Well, you are. Everyone is. But junior high doesn’t last forever for kids with grades like yours.  Someday you’re going to be 25, so let’s take a look at that guy. I can already tell you that he is going to be very handsome, with warm blue-grey eyes, broad shoulders and an incredible head of hair. His cheeks will still flush excitedly when he talks about the things that are interesting to him, the way they did when he was a kid. The next 10 years of your life should be a sort of boot camp to set that guy up. It won’t guarantee immunity from heartbreak. You’re going to have those. But it is a better way to pass the time than video games:

1. Start reading the favorite books of the people you find most interesting. Probably your mom is at the top of the list of people you find most interesting, but there may be some others, too. Your mom will start you with Vonnegut, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and the Johns: Cheever and Updike. Your weirdo stepdad is going to park you with Raymond Carver, Tom McGuane, even Bukowski when you’re old enough. Ask your cousin Donna, the smartest person in the world, what she liked when she was your age. Ask your Ahma, the kindest person in the world, what influenced her to step so far outside of herself every day. Did you know that Papa is a poet? He has fantastic books. Ask him. Read these books when you’re young and because you want to understand the voices that have influenced the people you love. Read them before you’re old enough to do so stupidly and with your own dumb ego filtering the author’s voice.  There is little more absurd to me than seeing a 20 year old kid reading Charles Bukowski on a bench outside a coffee shop. That’s pooper reading, friend. Keep it by the toilet where you can really focus.  For God’s sake, not out in public just for the benefit of being seen holding the book.

2. Work out. Learn to take a little time every day to prepare your body for the wretched chemical muck you’re going to have to swim in for the next eight to ten years. Puberty is not easy on your body or your mind. You can’t outrun it, but you can walk quickly around the block every day and do some push-ups to keep it in check.

3. Be a good brother. Listen to your sisters. You have the benefit of living with women, which will lend itself forever to you understanding them a little better than your counterparts who don’t have sisters. If you let it. That means you have to plug in with them, not shut them out. These sisters are my gift to you, my masterpieces. You’ll have them your whole life, I hope. You’re welcome.

4. Let girls teach you how to kiss. There's nothing more disappointing than an otherwise perfect guy who is a terrible kisser. It's a deal breaker for most girls. Your first few girlfriends will be the ones to teach you all about it. Pay attention to their cues, and ask them questions about kissing. It's awkward, but worth it.  

5. Talk to the men in your life about sex. You can talk to me, but I know that’s just really uncomfortable and weird, so you don’t have to. Sometimes I’ll talk to you about it, but I can dig that you’d rather talk to the dudes about your stuff. Do that. Please. Ask them about masturbation, and about how to prepare yourself for what’s going to happen to you and your body and your mind and your completely-normal-happens-to-every-boy-obsession with all things sexual. Talk to men, so you don’t feel like a freak. Don’t, I repeat DO NOT!! listen to the dumbfuck boys at school. They don’t know what they’re talking about any more than you do. They’ll feed you bad information and then measure their penises or something. Jesus, I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things.  When you feel overwhelmed by the hormones, see step 2.

6. Learn to talk to people. Slow, baby steps for you, I know. Practice on other kids whose moms think verbal communication is important. They’re out there. Can you imagine the advantage you’ll have when you can engage in a face to face conversation with a cute girl and all the other boys can do is to weakly text her UR a QT? Some of those guys aren’t even going to be able to make eye contact with a girl. Others won’t be able to spell. Seriously, kid, you’re going to dominate. You are so, so incredibly charming.

7. Don’t bitch about your chores. You should be thanking me. I know you won't thank me for a while, but if you follow my advice in steps 1-5, you’ll be a boy who is smart, handsome, well-read, in great physical and mental shape, a great kisser with a healthy attitude about sex and a talent for talking and listening. If you can also make dinner and wash laundry, you will probably be on the cover of Time Magazine by the time you’re 30. You can thank me then.

8. Don't assume that you're going to get your heart broken every time you have a girlfriend. Sometimes you will. Sometimes you're going to be the one breaking hearts. Someday, someone is going to feel about you the way you feel about this girl, and you may or may not feel the same way. It's not much easier to be the one leaving.

9. It might just be gas. Sometimes breaking up with someone feels a lot like a big bubble in your gut. Sometimes, it actually is, and getting back on your feet is as easy as passing it.

10. Hug your mom a lot. With both arms and big squeezes and no pats. Pats are dismissive. Now let's go return these damn earrings.