We were a rollicking bunch...and our Den Mothers loved us
"Let me know if there's anything I can do...let me know if
there's anything I can do...let me know if there's anything I can do" I said this
repeatedly as I made my way through the family ‘condolences' line at the front
of the church where one of my best friends was there to shake hands with people
paying their respects for his mother who had just passed away from Lou Gehrig's
Disease. I have no idea why I was saying what I was and looking at it now I realize it was absolutely ridiculous. What could I possibly do for them? Their mother was gone.
As boys we all have Den Mothers. We were a rollicking bunch; testing our
physical limits and our mental capacities through juvenile pranks, fights and
bad habits. It's how packs of boys spend their youth in between girls and school.
And when we'd do something stupid we'd have a friend's mother there to
tell us, ‘that... was stupid'. No grounding, no yelling, just straight talk from an adult that whether it was
delivered the exact same way from your own parent, it suddenly made sense while
you sit in the kitchen of your pals house on a morning after a sleepover eating
the sugary cereal you don't have at your own home.
You have these memories too.
The foods that you only ate at another dinner table, the music you listened
to only in the room of your best friend, shouting the lyrics as loud as your
voice could carry and dancing on the bed hitting every perfect air guitar
note. These are the places you experimented with swearing, where you talked about your first kiss with no fear of
embarrassment from your own family. And when you pushed the limits, a harsh talking to was waiting for you from the Den Mother, pulling no punches yet there was never any fear that you weren't
welcome back at that home.
I probably did and said a billion stupid things in my time while hanging out with my buddies the extent of my teenage years. I grew up cocky and with a bit of a high nose. I wasn't a bad kid... just a kid and
I'm sure I overstayed my welcome many times. Yet, I was always allowed back. I was always fed. I was always treated as a son of their own. I received correction, guidance and love. In return, I said ‘please' and ‘thank you' and I meant it.
These days are a memory now.
I do not see my friends anymore. Yet on this day, in that church, with our ties on and our hair a bit
different than 14 years ago, we all walked down that aisle with the same fear
of ‘what do I say'.
If his mom would have passed away 14 years earlier we'd all be sneaking beers together getting drunk as teenagers do when coping with the drama of our lives. With glazed eyes we'd say I love you, and we'd mean it as much as any teenage can. But we'd at least be there together, pulling for our friend.
If she had passed 14 years from now, we'd all be further down the beaten path of life. At that point we'd probably had lost a few other Den Mother's. We would know the realties that aging presents. We'd say sorry and
mean it because we knew that the inevitable loss of our own parent was somewhere off in the ever nearby future and this would just be a foreshadowing of the pain so close to come.
But in the present we just make it up because don't know any better. Too old to pass it off with a night of juvenile drinking, too young to feel the closeness of our own parent's mortality.
We are too busy to dwell on these thoughts together. Instead we say stupid things like "if there's anything I can do" and we try desperately to remember a quick story from our childhood where their parent was a key player. Hug, shake hands
and quietly sneak back into our homes, our young families and the jobs that occupy our minds more than they should.
It's these moments I'm ashamed of who I've become. Detached from those which I shared memories. I want them to know, that when I think of those times, I smile. I hope they can smile too; perhaps it will help the healing process in some small way. In the meantime, I am at my own home now with my own children. And each
summer evening their friends find their way to my backyard. I feed them, I encourage them and I listen to
their little childlike ramblings with close attention. I also kick them out, but I always tell them they are welcome back and I send them home with a full bellies of dinner and snacks because I do not know what their homes bring.
I am a den mother and they are a rollicking bunch.
........in late memory of Lynn Speiss and all the other mothers who cared