It can be a competitive place, my crowded little Tuvalu.
One feels it keenly regarding the children, but it extends to how one keeps their home or what car one drives. We are, presently, in the thick of the college application process with Youngest and he and I are well aware of the pressure around us concerning it all. Last weekend, at the supermarket, I heard mothers comparing notes: how many schools are being applied to, how fabulous the letters of recommendation are, which schools are safeties, reaches - I rushed away from the conversations bubbling up around me. I'm not comfortable with comparisons.
I remember when we did this with Middle. I was very pleased to be cut out of the conversations regarding important universities as Middle was going to Art School.
And, to some extent, I am able to dodge the topic again as Youngest intends to go to Art School. But there are countless forms to fill out and finances to be discussed and I'm feeling the pressure build.
Fortunately, this does not seem to faze Youngest. It certainly didn't have any effect on Middle.

After the whole college pressure cooker fades away people start pressing about when the kids are moving out. If they are done with university, or didn't go, why don't they get their own place?
People ask me all the time and, honestly, I know it's none of their business but I find myself cobbling together answers...Oldest does fine but not well enough for his own place nearby - it's very expensive. And Middle does very well but I think 20 is awfully young to have all the responsibility of an apartment. Youngest would love to live on campus next fall, but it is obscenely expensive...see? Now I've explained it again.
And, really, the point is, I don't see what the big deal is with moving out. I'm sure they are each eager to go and plan on doing so as soon as they can. But, in the meantime, I have no problem living with three interesting independent young men.

So, that's the backstory to something that happened this morning.

I was riding the train with Middle and observing, as I am wont to do, my fellow passengers.
Seated a few rows ahead of me but facing me was a man I see most days. A business man but with a child-like face, he gets on one stop after we do and says the rosary and then crosses himself each morning. One doesn't often see people praying on the train and that's how I first noticed him. Today I realized that he looks like he's wearing a school uniform, like a kid, with an innocent face though he's close to my age.
So, he does his prayers, makes his cross, reads the paper and we ride into town.
Middle, in his black tee shirt and jeans, plugs in his music and passes out.
(He has excellent sleep skills.)
We reach the station, people rise to leave the train, and Praying Man moves into the aisle to walk past where Middle is just waking and I am sitting and he looks down at Middle and with the most subtle body language and facial expression I saw this man look down on Middle. This man whom I had silently admired for observing his faith in a public place looked at my son like he was garbage.
Well. I'm sure you can imagine how I did.
We left the train together and walked upstairs to where we usually do our special handshake/hug (a complicated and well choreographed display which I hope to eventually describe) and I burst into tears.
I told Middle how the man looked at him. Middle was nonplussed. He didn't flinch. He smirked a little and hugged me while I sobbed and told him how proud I am to be his mom.
How proud I am of him.
I can't even imagine how this man would have regarded my long-haired, bearded, tattooed Oldest.
But Oldest would not have been placid.


Kathy said…
Ah, well. I can imagine what a blow that must have been. I have been observing a similar look with my own boy for most of his life. Not the "you are garbage" look but the "what is wrong with this kid?" look, and the "what is wrong with this kid's parents?" look and the "thank God that's not MY kid" look.

Well, it's your loss, World, because he is amazing and talented and delightful and strong. And you have no idea what he's been through and what he has overcome. I'm glad he's not your kid, too. So suck it.
L.P. said…
I'm sorry that happened to you. But it says more about Praying Man (who sounds like a prisoner of his own ignorance) than it does about Middle.

Here in the land of Obscurity, my own Youngest and I are going through the horrors of college applications, too. He's been taking SAT subject tests, writing essays, etc. He does this all without comment, but I lay awake last night, worrying. Fingers crossed for both our sweet boys.

And you have no one to answer to for how your family lives together (or not) but yourselves. You are doing brilliantly.
Mary said…
I felt this pierce my heart.

Love to you Mama Bird.
alice c said…
You know a great deal about my MasterM and I will tell you that there are occasions when he chooses to dress down and irk the adults around him and there are occasions when he dresses to impress. My point is that MasterM doesn't care about reactions of the people around him - he is confident of his right to be who he chooses to be.

As is Middle.

We should be proud of the men that they have become.
Lover Lady said…
I don't think I would have minded my tongue. I am not sure what I would have said, but it probably would have made him cross himself three more times.
Scot said…
OK, middle-aged man in a school uniform flaunting his religion ON A TRAIN! Very Creepy. Seriously, I think I saw that on the SyFy network once.
I find that extremely regimented people, ie. black belt catholicks, are not accepting of (progressive) others.
Don't give it another thought - although I really wish it HAD been Oldest. I think this post would have been very humorous.
BUT, the most important part of this post - YOUNGEST IN COLLEGE!!! How the hell did that happen???
Good God BB, how long have I been here?
KPB said…
OH how I adore you.
1. I would have done exactly the same thing.
2. Felix and Chef have this whole handshake routine thing they do when it's bedtime and it tickles my heart (even though I roll my eyes at them every night)
3. What Mary said
4. What Kathy said
5. What Scot said
6. I often think of you as I see my boys growing up - and your relationship with them and how I hope to have something similar with mine. I can see that happening with Felix and oh man, it makes me breathless - in the promise of the life ahead of him, of who he is, of who he will be.

zephyr said…
You've done good, BB.
They are good young men who like your company. That is SUCH a wonderful thing. i bet lots of those other moms are/would be jealous of that.

And, how i wish we could block the barbs slung out from others...
Amy A. said…
I didn't believe it when people said it didn't get any easier when they got older. Now mine are a little older and it's not easier, just different. And to think I still have three more to get through high school!
Anonymous said…
Sanctimonious bugger. What nerve!

readersguide said…
Ugh. I think we all know how this is. You kind of learn to live with the judgments the world makes of you, but when it comes to your kids it's a whole different story. It's hard not to get sucked in to feeling you need to justify the excellence of your children if, like mine, they are not likely to be heading off to Harvard Law. The wonderful thing, though, is that they are happy with themselves exactly as they are. And we are, too.
Ginnie said…
You are so fortunate, bb, to have a 'functional' family, that loves and respects each other. That's the most important thing.

One of my friends was about 25 or 26 when she decided she wanted to move out on her own. Her own family was OK with it, but the aunts, uncles, etc. kept asking her parents worriedly, "What's wrong?" They were first/second generation Irish, and there was no moving out before marriage. Who would want that?! Yet my friend's circle of friends had been asking her for a couple of years, "What's wrong?" They couldn't comprehend why one would live at home after finishing university.

There's no pleasing the crowd, so best to please yourself. I'm so glad Middle was unmoved by the incident. And you know what? Maybe the Praying Man has a heretofore unseen facial tic and wasn't looking down on Middle at all.
Paola said…
I would have confronted the man. My mom is scared someday someone will hurt me because I can never shut up when something wrong happens to me or my family or my (VERY few) friends.
I am protective and physical, not a good combo these days.
And I am REALLY sorry it wasn't Oldest. I shall never forget the LOOK he gave me when I arrived to your home stopped in front of it and looked at it.
You (and K!) have amazing, confident, brilliant sons.
Ali said…
In the midst of a competitive phase in the childhood of my eldest, I too am feeling rather thin skinned about the judgements of others.
And grateful that he is too young to really notice the subtleties in the comments.
But somehow, that makes it all the worse. And the supposed adults who make them should be ashamed of themselves.
I'm glad Middle did not flinch - I'd be proud to bring up a son whose shoulder I could cry on.
Hilary said…
I am so sorry that you had to experience that... But, middle had the right attitude (easier for kids than their mom's I am sure) to just blow off praying man's reaction. I am sure, based upon his description, that praying man has plenty of issues of his own...

I hear you about this island being one judgmental place - especially certain pockets of towns. The residents rival any high school bully or clique any time... it is sad... I have no idea why so many people are so focused on others lives, etc, when they all have enough to worry about in their own....
Duyvken said…
What a wonderful mama-bear you are. Sending you love.
Oh, this just made me cry. You know our Oldests are birds of a feather. I lovingly call mine "my scruffbucket". I see the looks he gets in public and just think "you have no idea what a kind, sensitive gentleman he is"

I'm glad Middle can let this roll off his back. My Cape Cod Kid doesn't give a crap about what people think of his looks.

I can't believe Youngest is getting ready for college. He was just in 6th grade yesterday!
Kelly said…
I just deleted this long comment about what I would have done, like informing Mr. Judgey McJudgerson, that he needs to have a Come to Jesus meeting about what it really means to be a Christian, and so on,...Sorry, I am glad that Middle has so much confidence in himself that it didn't shake him, but I know you want to stand up for him. I can only suggest the side-eye, and a sneer if you don't want to get too confrontational.
Kate said…
I try to live by The Golden Rule.
I have kids too. Just as you know the wonder and the beauty of each of your children, you can bet other people see it too. Not all people, but those who would appreciate it.
Jen said…
Ick. Hates the judgementalness.

You defend your boys, you have raised great kids. And how can anyone NOT love Middle, who once had a Quantum of Solace jacket. :-)
Anonymous said…
That man was an asshat, and I am especially happy to call him that, as I learned the term here.

You wear your heart on your arm-warmers about your family, bb, and it shows. But I'm glad Middle was a cool customer about it. Outliers are probably a little used to that sort of thing, no?

And good for you for staying above the fray about college/leaving home. All families should be as lucky as yours.

Anonymous said…
Really? In this economy people expect kids to live on their own? Must be the Fabled Land of Trust Funds--we don't live there, either.
Somehow I knew Middle wouldn't give a crap, but how very sad that the more obvious one's religious beliefs, the greater their outward demonstration of hypocrisy.
I adore that you and your son ride the train into the Big City together and have a special handshake. I imagine many people watch you disembark and look at you two with envy and respect.
Youngest--Art School--oh my!
RW said…
I had a lot of catching up to do.
I echo alot of what was said.
well done to you and middle.
you are an inspiration to me.
robiewankenobie said…
i adore that you have raised a son that didn't notice, and doesn't particularly care. it can be difficult to teach a kid to be their own person in the midst of a judgmental world.

look at it this way - you've got kids who are invested in what they do and not what they get (who turns down the big business in the sky for the sake of art? someone who you parented!). they love their mama. they love each other! and they are learning, adventuring, living out loud. i am spectacularly inspired by the community that you've created. <3
Miz S said…
Oh, I love this post! The way you started with the general description of competition and judgement and then spiraled down to that incident on the train. I felt as if I were right there with you. And I would have been doing the same thing--observing the man, feeling interested in his faith, and then kicked in the stomach by his disdain for my child. Honestly, I feel sorry for the man. We all have our blind spots and our challenges. His particular blind spot means he will never bother with people who, in his mind, fit into some stereotype (too young? too casual? too sleepy? who knows)and so will miss out on knowing some amazing people.