Two years ago, my memoir, “Dinner with the Smileys,” exposed with painful transparency my difficulty raising a pre-teen boy. I held nothing back when I wrote about Ford’s attitude, his tendency to slam his bedroom door, and all the ways he broke my heart — over and over again.
As my column from last week points out, puberty changes our sweet little boys and turns them into something we’d rather not be around for a few years. Ford was in this murky stage when we lived, and I wrote, “Dinner with the Smileys.”
Poor, Ford. Had we done the dinners three years later, it would have been Ford’s younger brother who would have carried that role. But, no, there it is — Ford’s worst years in black and white. Forever.
My plan had been to prevent Ford from reading “Dinner with the Smileys” until he was mature enough to appreciate his portrayal in it. I was banking on “we’ll laugh about this someday.”
But when the publisher sent the first copy, it was Ford who found it. And he wanted to read.
My heart sank. As Ford shut himself in his bedroom to read, I paced outside his door and chewed my nails. He brushed his teeth that night while still holding and reading the book. I hovered nearby wringing my hands. The next day after school, he went to his room again to read. I knew he was near the end, and I anticipated his angry exit at any moment.
Instead, Ford came out of his bedroom, handed me the book and said, “It’s the best book I’ve read in the genre.”
“So you’re not mad?”
“Why would I be mad?” he said. “You didn’t make it up. I did all those things.”
[Imagine me struggling to speak here.]
Then, as he walked away, he said, “You made a grammar mistake in the Acknowledgements.”
That moment — that very moment — marked the first time I realized my sweet boy was coming back from the grips of adolescence.
So in light of last week’s column and because Ford has never questioned my need to write about his past behavior, I thought I’d offer you moms in the trenches some hope.
In 2012, I wondered who had raised Ford, even though I knew the answer was “we did.”
Dustin sometimes quipped that maybe we should just put all our energies into Ford’s younger brothers now. Having a sense of humor is mandatory when raising teenagers.
Well, meet Ford today, three years later.
Ford is the kind of young man who brings up the trash cans when he sees them by the curb, even if I haven’t asked him to do. Who saw that coming in 2012? Not me. Every morning, he wakes up at 5 a.m., reads a couple chapters of a book, and then he wakes up his brothers and makes them breakfast while he lets me sleep. (Don’t hate me.)
One day recently, when his newly minted adolescent brother was giving me a hard time, Ford said, “Go for a walk, Mom. I’ll stay here with him.” And he did. He shakes hands with adults, makes it a priority to be on time, and takes his new job announcing Little League games very seriously. He might be becoming the world’s best employee. Is there a mug for that?
Ford is smart, conscientious and thoughtful. The other night, a little boy came up into the announcer’s box during a game. Ford suggested he go back downstairs and play. In other words, Ford wanted to work alone. But the little boy told Ford in a very sad voice that he didn’t have anyone to play with. As Ford told the story to me, he said, “How could I not let him sit up there with me after that? I let him do the scoreboard.”
This is not meant to brag about my son. It is to show you how far he’s come. And all the world’s pre-teens who are driving you crazy right now will eventually change as well — so long as people only joke about giving up on them but don’t actually do it.
Today, Ford writes for a popular website. I’d tell you which one, but for now he uses a pseudonym. As I read his work and his even-tempered, smart interactions with commenters, I find myself asking, “Who is this young man? Is he really the same boy from the pages of my book?”
Here’s the part where I’m supposed to humbly tell you his father and I had nothing to do with it. But that wouldn’t be fair or instructive. We did the only thing we could during those years. We loved him through it. And it seems to have worked.
In honor of Memorial Day, the ebook version of Dinner with the Smileys will be available on barnesandnoble.com for $2.99 from May 19 to 26.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She may be reached at facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.