Smartmom used to think that parents were responsible for everything good, bad, and indifferent about their children.
She thought that raising children was like raising African Violets or Orchids; tending to a child with the unswerving dedication of a master gardener.
But after being a parent for more than 16 years, Smartmom has learned that, while some kids are like flowers, others are more like exotic mushrooms.
In other words, the less you do, the better.
While no one can deny that it is important to nurture, love, feed, educate and guide one’s children, sometimes being a parent requires a healthy dose of distance.
Take Teen Spirit. In the last year, he has turned into an accomplished rhythm guitar player. And this is the kid who refused every music lesson he’s ever been offered.
But that’s not all. On his own, he’s become an avid reader of early 20th-century poetry and has been obsessively writing songs that could give Bob Dylan a run for his money.
(Smartmom’s his mother. She’s allowed to kvell).
Unlike the Oh So Feisty One, he doesn’t like to share everything with his mom. That OSFO, she loves to be guided and encouraged. When she practices the piano, she insists Smartmom sit right next to her.
“Stop it,” she screams when Smartmom sings along with one of her classical pieces. But if Smartmom dares to get up: “Get back here!”
Teen Sprit couldn’t be more different. He’s always been an independent sort. The less interest shown the better. An overzealous parent can blow his enthusiasm right out the window.
The other day, these thoughts were foremost on Smartmom’s mind as she and Hepcat made their way to Teen Spirit’s solo gig at the Bowery Poetry Club.
Smartmom ordered a glass of Chardonnay to calm her substantial nerves. While Teen Spirit has been playing bass with his band, Cool and Unusual Punishment, for three years, this was his first solo performance.
As audience members filled the dark performance space, Smartmom thought about the dark growing rooms where white, brown and Portobello mushrooms are harvested.
Just like those mushrooms, Teen Spirit was growing on his own without the bright artificial light of his mother’s attention. On his own, he had transformed himself into a serious singer-songwriter.
It all seemed very sudden to Smartmom. That’s probably because she had nothing to do with it. Truth is, he seems to have little use for her constant nagging: Wake up. Take a shower. Go to school. Do your homework. Go to bed.
But that’s what mothers do. That’s part of the job description. And it’s part of the parental delusion of control that their children can’t develop without them.
Waiting for Teen Spirit to play, Smartmom found herself stressing: Would he know how to use a microphone? Was his guitar in tune? Would his hair fall into his face and cover his eyes? Would he remember the lyrics to his self-penned songs? Would he sing loudly enough?
Smartmom was channeling Gypsy’s Mama Rose big time. Sing out Teen Spirit. Sing out.
Turns out, Smartmom didn’t need to worry a bit. Teen Spirit took hold of that stage and didn’t let go.
“This is a song about a family,” he told the audience at one point. “But it’s not autobiographical.”
“A mother says to her daughter, never marry a man like your father, all he’ll make you do is cry, all he’ll give you is black eyes, like the ones that pollute your mother’s face,” he sang.
Some of the songs gave her chills. Others made her swoon. One or two simply took her breath away.
“We are sacred, we are pure, we are rare, we are obscure, we are all that we have left.”
Afterward, Smartmom and Hepcat were in awe of their offspring. But could they take any credit for it?
Sure, Teen Spirit had inherited Smartmom’s musicality and her wondrous way with words. But he owned his effort and his talent fair and square. Teen Spirit had created himself out of sight of his parent’s hovering.
“Was that great or are we just prejudiced because we’re his parents?” Smartmom asked her spouse as they walked to the F train. Hepcat, who recorded the show with his brand new Zoom H4, reminded her, “Some of the other kids’ parents were impressed, too.”
In fact, the mother of Teen Spirit’s oldest friend told Smartmom to tell Teen Spirit that she was very proud of him. Then she paused to rephrase. “No, tell Teen Spirit we were blown away.”
And there it was: Perhaps Smartmom couldn’t take credit for teaching Teen Spirit anything, but he had certainly taught her that not all children are flowers. Some are mushrooms and you just have to leave ’em alone.