Excerpt from: #ThisMyLife - MOTY
My son was in the seventh grade (12), attending his first-ever school dance, a dress-up occasion with a girl. He asked me if I would take photos of them at her house, as a professional photographer forever, not an unexpected request.
I took photos of plenty of clients’ and family members’ special events, birth announcements, parties, portraits, dances, weddings. I never forget a face that I've photographed, which are thousands of faces, many of which show up in my dreams.
Usually, people don't remember, the one exception being the doctor on call who delivered my son. He remembered me immediately. He was the father of my niece's high school prom date. I had taken photos of them in his backyard.
My sister attended the birth of my son as well as the photo session back then. He recognized both of us like it was homecoming week but for me, naked homecoming week. My sister is one to laugh at everything, not unlike me at all. She looked at me with raised eyebrows and laughed at the unexpected coincidence. I, of course, responded, "Yeah, this is great, ha-ha," then flatly pointed out the obvious, "I'm naked." To which she lost it.
She’s my older sister, I've obviously known her my entire life and also loves hilarious situations and could not help but laugh because what else are you going to do? It's not like I could get dressed and go home. You gotta let some things go, and well, my only child arrived about ten hours later, delivered by my niece's high school prom date's father.
So yeah, I could shoot photos of my son's first formal dance in my sleep, "of course, I'll take photos."
I would have assumed her parents might drive them because, for whatever reason, it seemed like the natural order of things, but my son asked if I could drive them, which was also not a problem. After I agreed, he added, "She said she wants to make an entrance to the dance from a Mercedes." Of course, this caused me to stop and wonder about this girl-was my son dating a Kardashian? “Okay.” I had never met this girl, but she obviously had seen my car.
I didn't drive a Benz because I wanted to show up places in a Benz. Conversely, no aspect of driving a Benz sucked other than the cost of maintenance; I drove them because I had been in one too many bad accidents, five actually, and no, not because I drove too fast. I do, but that is not the point of this story. I had never been driving or at fault, in any accident I had been in.
I researched and appreciated the safety features that Mercedes developed and were standard features on their cars way before the rest of the world offered them at all, let alone as a standard feature for safety’s sake: Crumple zones, anti-lock brakes, airbags, side curtain airbags, side beam protection, built-in roll cage, anti-rollover technology because my kid would eventually drive it. I wish they or all cars used five-point safety harnesses, I'd totally be down for that too. My son’s father was a professional race car driver in his early days before we were together. He was also a paramedic fireman who cut people out of cars daily. I knew all about safety considerations and weaknesses where car design was concerned.
But for a time, my son apparently thought I was a snob and tried to take a stab at my ill-perceived snobbiness once until I pointed out that we lived in a nice neighborhood, and I drove a SAFE car because of HIM. He would never have to sleep on the ground to avoid stray bullets as I had in some of my previous residences before he was born. I could have chosen to spend more discretionary income on such things as fancy cars before I was a single mother if that were my true desire, but I didn't. I saved my money, I went to school to be able to surround myself, HIM with safety. I drove the entry-level baby Benz that I could afford and lived in the upgraded neighborhood because of HIM. If I wanted to buy more than I could afford, trust me I would have bought the enormous, hundred-thousand-dollar flagship Benz. I mean, why stop there? Why not a Ferrari? It was important to me that as long as I had a minor child, I had to keep BOTH of us safe.
My kid is smart as hell but had never thought of all the pieces of the puzzle from any perspective beyond the surface of the beauty of things, and of course, no one hates beautiful things, least of all me. But, yeah, I shut that shit right down.
I have always demanded his respect but also spoke frankly to him, and respected everything he was capable of understanding at every age with my demands or advisements. When he was two, I casually admonished him not to touch the meat case at the grocery store “because it had bacteria on it, which can make you sick.” A woman nearby commented, “I can’t believe you are talking to him like that.” You know I had a response, I smiled and kindly asked, “Who do you think should talk to him like that?” She nodded, smiled, “Good point.” We crossed paths again as you do on another aisle, where she overheard him, “Momma, did you know the stars are always up in the sky? We just can’t see them because the sun is so bright.” Her eyebrows went up to her hairline. She commented, "I can't believe that just came out of that kids mouth." I smiled, "I talk to him about everything." She smiled back. I returned my focus to my son, continuing our conversation without hesitation, “I think I did know that, but let’s look when we go outside and see what we can see, ok?” “Ok.”
I hugged and kissed him all the time, we made arts and crafts together, I read every book imaginable to him, and we watched the complete Roger’s and Hammerstein collection of musicals because we didn’t have cable T.V. Yes, he can belt out anything from their catalog in perfect pitch to this day. We constantly laughed at everything under the sun because it would be impossible for me to share any moment of time with anyone and not laugh at something regularly. He has a dad, as I mentioned, a full-time loving and involved race car thrill-seeking dad-very entertaining, but separate from my household and life with our son.
People frequently commented as to how polite my son was in public situations. Of course, he was. Part of that was because I was polite to him, and he modeled me, but also because he was a very chill kid who understood our time together was limited, and neither of us wanted to spend it yelling at each other because we talked about that too. I loved my son thoroughly without question on his part. The snob thing was a rare serious conversation, so he knew it was the real, real going down.
The night of the dance, we drove a short distance to her house. Her family invited us inside. Interior lighting, tungsten (incandescent) specifically casts a yellow effect on film. Fluorescent casts blue hues. LED did not exist then, but it harshly whitewashes everything-I know you were looking around your house wondering about that, so definitely go outside. They did not have an obvious uncluttered natural backdrop like a fireplace, stairway, or curtains in their house for photos nor the right light. I suggested we step outside into the golden hour of the light spectrum as it was approaching dusk. I posed the kids in front of a tree. I stepped back to frame the shot. Her mother adoringly said, "You look so pretty, honey." My son's date yelled, "Shut up, mom!"
I know! My head snapped back with those words too! I instinctively responded, “Don’t you talk to your mother like that!” Then my head snapped the direction of her mother, parents, who were not surprised at all by their daughter’s rude response but were taken aback by mine.
They stood there wringing their hands with body language that revealed they walked on eggshells around their little brat. There was a little brother hiding in the background, hoping to avoid her wrath as well. I felt bad for all of them, my son included.
I couldn’t help myself, my lack of a poker face translates seamlessly right into lack of a poker mouth, and I said, “Don’t let her talk to you like that.” I turned back to the snippy little minx standing next to my son and continued, “That is your only mother, and you do not speak like that to her ever again, or at least in my or my son’s presence, got it?” She was stunned; my son, as you can imagine, was also stunned.
I knew I probably, strike that, I knew I just set a bad tone for the rest of the evening for my son. I also theorized whatever this was with this girl was probably not going to be long-lived and that was definitely for the best because I did not want her speaking that way to my very kind son either.
Before they got in, she directed him as to the seating arrangements in our car. He was to sit behind me, she would sit in the back passenger seat. When they arrived, he was to get out, walk around, and open her door for her entrance.
They got in the backseat of the car. I was so incredulous at how venomous this wisp of a girl had hissed at her mother. My home is a place where people do not speak like that to each other, nor is yelling a thing unless we are laughing or being called from downstairs to dinner.
Angry or disciplinary yelling is a traumatic experience for everyone in the room and is not ok. I started the car then adjusted my rearview mirror to make eye contact with her before we pulled away from her house. “Did Steven tell you I’m strict?” She nodded. “First of all, you do look pretty, it’s important to learn how to take a compliment graciously by saying, ‘Thank you.’ And, no one on Earth in your entire life is going to love you like your mom loves you. If you’ve never thought of that before, I am telling you now. I hope that apologize to her when you get home tonight.” She looked like a deer in the headlights trapped in my penetrating gaze, and trust me, while I may not have a poker face, I can go all day long without blinking. She blinked first and looked down without a word. I win the alpha dog in my car!
My son held her hand tensely the short drive to the school. As I approached, I asked which drop-off they wanted me to use. She responded immediately with the location, the approach so that the passenger side of the car was facing the line to get into the dance. I obliged.
My son hopped out as previously directed and ran around the car to her side. I looked over my seat and made direct confrontational eye contact with her, “You better be kind to my son.” And smiled what probably presented to her as a terrifying smile as though harm may come to her. Then to both of them, I said louder, “Have fun, I’ll pick you up at eleven.”
When I returned to the line of cars at pick-up, I waited for some time. The cars cleared for the most part, then, walking in the half-lit street was my son, by himself. Of course, I thought, oh, this can’t be good but also-GOOD.
He got in the passenger side and announced before closing his door, or I could ask. “She called her mom to come pick her up as soon as we got to the dance.” I felt bad, but his energy was not that of rejection. He seemed ok. Not resigned, ok, but ok, ok.
I apologized for disciplining everyone in the room. He reflected, “Let’s face it, Mom, she’s a total bitch-definitely wore the pants in that relationship. It’s fine.” I could not help but laugh because my kid figures things out quickly and is very funny. I started the car.
“Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah, there were tons of girls to dance with.”
“Am I still in competition for the MOTY (Mother of the Year) award?”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
“So I still have a chance?”
It’s interesting witnessing and speaking directly to your genetic mirror like that.