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Flight of Parental Nostalgia: My Son Doran and the Supreme Court - Mo's Journal
December 15th, 2006
06:38 am

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Flight of Parental Nostalgia: My Son Doran and the Supreme Court
So, as some of you know, Doran enlisted in the Marines. He left for boot camp a week and a half ago. It's not what I would have chosen for him, but I am very clear that it's not my role to choose. He's an adult and needs to make adult decisions. I'm working hard on finding the value that he sees in this choice. I'm also, of course, frightened for his safety.

Mostly, though, I'm just missing him so much. He's a great kid (yes, I know I just called him an adult, but at 18, they're both) - loving, thoughtful, intelligent, fun. We've always been very close. He wasn't one of those kids who withdrew at adolescence and, in fact, really craved and demanded one-on-one time with me. And at 18 he still walks down the street with his arm around my shoulders and says "I love you" to me in front of his friends. I'm accustomed to spending a lot of time with him, to talking to him during the day even when I'm at work. It's very hard to not only not see him (which would have happened if he were at college, too) but not be able to talk to him, either. It's making me think back on his childhood. An old story, for those who haven't known me so long (or those who'd like to hear it again :-)):


Doran was 2.5 years old when Thurgood Marshall retired from the Supreme Court. Stacy and I had both been big fans of Marshall since childhood (ours, not his) and paid close attention to the news accounts of his retirement with their bios and summaries of his career. So, Doran was hearing the name "Thurgood Marshall" bandied about a lot and asked "Who's Furgood Marshall?" (Doran could not say 'th' until he was around 6 and subsitituted either f or h, depending on the word).

Stacy, who was home alone with him at the time, worked to explain this in age-appropriate fashion saying that he was a Supreme Court Justice, which is a kind of a judge, which is someone whose "job it is to decide what's right and wrong under the law". That seemed to mean something to Doran, although not quite what it meant to us (and, I presume, not what it meant to Thurgood Marshall).

Doran took this in and invented a game. If I were going to market it (not that I think there's a market for it) I would call it "Furgood Marshall: the Game of Right and Wrong". Here's how it went:

Doran: Let's play Furgood Marshall.

Me: Okay.

Doran: You be Furgood Marshall.

Me: Okay.

Doran: Furgood Marshall, should I clean up my room?

Me: Yes, Doran, you should clean up your room.

Doran: Furgood Marshall, should I be rude to people?

Me: No, Doran, you should not be rude to people.

Doran: Furgood Marshall, should I share my toys?

Me: Yes, Doran, you should share your toys.

And so on. We had to play Furgood Marshall many times a day for several weeks, but then it faded into the background.

We had not played Furgood Marshall for a long time when, months later, the Supreme Court again became subject of discussion in our family. Clarence Thomas had been nominated to fill Marshall's seat and Anita Hill had come forth with accusations of sexual harassment and there were hearings and we were watching them with horrified fascination. Of course Doran wanted to know what was going on. How to explain this whole mess to a child now two weeks short of his third birthday? Well, we ended up telling him that a man named Clarence Thomas might get Thurgood Marshall's old job but that he had "said mean things" to a woman named Anita Hill and those people on TV were talking about whether or not he should have the job. Doran seemed satisfied with this explanation and never asked how the whole thing came out and we didn't say any more about it.

Fast forward several weeks and we are in a car on vacation with the radio on. It happens to be the day of Clarence Thomas's swearing in as Supreme Court Justice and NPR is covering it. "Clarence Thomas!" said Doran. "They said 'Clarence Thomas'. Why did they say 'Clarence Thomas'?

Me: Do you remember who he is?

Doran: He wants to be Furgood Marshall.

Me: He's never going to be Furgood, er, Thurgood Marshall, but he wants Thurgood Marshall's job. And you know what? He got it. Today is his first day in that job and that's what they are talking about.

Doran: (indignantly) But Mommy! He said mean 'hings to a woman!

Me: (resignedly) Yes, I know. And I didn't want him to get that job. But I didn't make the decision and he's got it.

Doran: (patting my arm) Oh, don't worry, Mommy. It will be okay.

So we go back to listening to the radio. Thomas's speech that day was very upbeat and rather conciliatory, in sharp contrast to his truculent demeanor during the hearings. The NPR newsreader commented on this, saying "It was a different Clarence Thomas we heard today".

Doran's face positively lit up and he said "See, Mommy, I told you it would be okay. It's a different Clarence Thomas. It's not the one who said mean 'hings to a woman." I didn't have the heart to tell him they didn't mean it literally.

Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
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[User Picture]
From:pancakegoddess
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:30 pm (UTC)
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such sweet stories.
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC)
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And you're a good friend to listen to them multiple times :-).
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From:marag
Date:December 15th, 2006 12:54 pm (UTC)
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OMG, *such* a cute story. I'm going to have to remember to tell my parents this one, because they'll love it :)

And now that I have a child, I can understand how you feel about Doran being in the Marines. ::hugs::
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:23 pm (UTC)
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It is a good story, isn't it? Very typical of our family in so many ways. I told it recently to a friend of mine who has a 2.5 year old now. She looked at him as I described Stacy trying to explain what a Supreme Court Justice is to a child that age. She said, "I would have said, 'he's a man.' If I felt particularly in an explaining mood, I would have said, 'he's that man on the tv.' " Bwah! I think Stacy and I are explainers and storytellers by nature. It never would have occurred to either of us to not at least try to explain...

Thanks for the hugs. It's hard. You raise them to think for themselves and then they go ahead and do that, dammit!
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From:blue_braces
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC)
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That's a great story! Sometimes I teach about the Thomas-Hill hearings to undergraduates, most of whom don't even know who Thomas and Hill are. One time a student asked, after we had been talking about the hearings, "what happened?" The student wanted to know if Thomas had gotten the job!
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
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OMG! Well, if they grew up in my house, they would know. They might not be able to say "th" but they'd know.
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From:talktooloose
Date:December 15th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC)
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How long is his commitment to the Marines? He will learn from the experience in both positive and negative ways, I'm sure. I hope it gives him what he is looking for and I hope he remains safe.

Stay strong, Mo. You've been a wonderful mother to him and I'm sure the love that you have nurtured will be tempered by the experience. The paths humans take are mysterious and their outcomes are rarely predictable.
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:30 pm (UTC)
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Four years! I just heard from him yesterday, sort of. They don't let them write anything for the first 10 days and then they send this fill-in-the-blanks letter. So it says at the top, Dear ____, and he filled in "Mom", and it has his address and info on what you can't send. Some of that was helpful (e.g. nothing edible - if I weren't told, I probably would have sent food) but some was just bizarre: no porn, weapons, flammable materials, illegal drugs. Oh yeah, that's exactly what I'd send my son. Oh, and at the end, under the "Sincerely" they provided, he signed "Doran Miller-Rosenberg". You know, just in case there are any other Dorans in the Marines that I'm waiting to hear from :-).

My brother Joel came up with calling the fill-in-the-blank letter "Marine Madlibs" which is cracking me up. Anyway, it felt great just to see his awkwardly childish handwriting. I'm sending him a letter (with no porn, weapons, etc. in it) this morning!

Thanks for the kind thoughts, talktooloose. You've been living with this longer than some and feeling my angst from time to time. I still derive comfort from your comment about Pyro...
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From:raynbow_flyer
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)
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what lovely memories! :-)

i'm curious (if you don't mind sharing)...did he share with you the reasons why he chose the marines?

also, as a respected mama in the parenting community...i'm curious to know what you think about our influences on our children. in your case specifically, i'm guessing you never endorsed joining the marines at 18.
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I was just saying to your sister that I should have a standard "Why Doran Decided to Join the Marines" write up. No, it's not something I wanted him to do, but I do want him to do what he feels is right. And, as I said, I'm working hard to find value in this choice. Having been on the other end of Young Adult Offsprint Makes Life Decision that Appalls Parents, I have a really good idea of how not to react.

I think parents influence children, but ultimately kids grow up and do what they think is right. I think that's as it should be. I absolutely see my influence on Doran in many things he does. I'm not the only influence and shouldn't be.

Here's what I wrote for a mailing list, shortly before he left, on my take on why he made this choice:


I" think he has a number of reasons. Some (from my point of view) are good ones, others troubling. I think to some extent he's been sold a bill of goods by recruiters and to some extent he thought of something really outrageous to do that would make everyone stand up and take notice and then felt stuck *having* to do what he said he would. Those are the bad reasons. Do you know F. Scott Fitzgerald's story "Bernice Bobs her Hair"? Poor Doran knows it too well at this point, since I think there's a Bernice quality to this decision, but I've been stressing with him that he can back out and he has a job he could stay with and think about it, but he's decided to go ahead. I do feel like it's a sign of maturity that he doesn't say "Don't tell me about that Goddamn Fitzgerald story again!" but rather acknowledges his Bernice component and evaluates it and determines that it's not a major factor in his decision. (For anyone dying of curiosity, the story can be found at http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/bernice/)


The good reasons? He feels that the military should be everyone's responsibility, that it shouldn't be something just for kids who don't have options, that he's had a lot of privilege in his life and he should pay back in some way (I tried to convince him that Americorps would be a good way). He's attracted by the physical challenge and has really worked at getting in shape for this, which impresses me. He feels that although the war was a mistake we have a responsibility to stay in and finish what we started (I disagree with that, but think it a legitimate position and coming from a good place). He loves the idea of the cameraderie of the Marines Corps - once a Marine, always a Marine. (I think he doesn't see the dark side of military culture, but I agree that that is positive.) He wants to contribute to his college education, and feels that the GI Bill is a good way to do that. He doesn't feel ready for college and wants to defer it and grow and learn before he goes. His main academic interest is military history and he believes (and I think he's right) that having been in the military gives you both a framework to study that and a kind of credibility you don't have as a kid who just reads a lot of military history.


He's been talking about it for a long time. He wavered at various points. Since he doesn’t want to go to college at this point, I’ve suggested alternatives: working for a year or two, joining a program like Americorps or the Peace Corps, taking a few classes at a community college and working part-time. He did work for a few months at a school and enjoyed that, but has not wavered in his decision. His departure has been delayed a couple of times, but he is supposed to go this weekend."

[User Picture]
From:artaxastra
Date:December 15th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
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Awwww! So very cute. What a wonderful story!
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)
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Glad you liked it! Thanks for reading.
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC)
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He is a darling. He promises me he'll stay one. I thank you for the hugs.
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From:jane_sehrn_ta
Date:December 15th, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
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Awww, what an adorable story *blinks and smiles*. Doran sounds like such a special young man - I can see why you would feel so proud of him, even when he's making a decision to enlist that you can't fully understand (I would have the same problem, but like you, would let him follow his path). Way to go, Doran, and way to go, Mom! (((huggs)))
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, Jane.
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From:fgherman
Date:December 15th, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
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I *hadn't* heard that story before, but it is so typical of him. You did good raising this one (and the others).

I just got a letter off in today's mail to him.

Felicia
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)
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Thanks so much for writing to him, Felicia. I can't believe you haven't heard the Furgood Marshall story!

How was The Who and St. Paul Hotel? Did our belated birthday present arrive yet?

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From:fgherman
Date:December 16th, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC)
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The Who (and The Pretenders) were very good, even if poor Roger had bronchitis and totally lost his voice after the "YEAH!!!! in Won't Get Fooled Again. They had to cut the concert short by 25 minutes.

Joel & I had a great time at the St Paul again (thank you for the first time).

Your gift arrived yesterday. I am looking forward to reading March & Joel is looking forward to the DVD - it, of course, was the only thing on my wish list that wasn't actual for me.

BTW, do you have a current address for Mark? I'd like to send Sophie & Max a Chanuka gift. (please reply via email for this)

Felicia
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From:mofic
Date:December 17th, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
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Oops on choosing the wrong item from your wish list! Well, I hope you like March.

I'll send the other info.
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! Can you ever imagine your little guy making adult choices? Or even commenting on Supreme Court Justices? They grow up quickly, I tell you.
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 09:10 pm (UTC)
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I've got a 14-year gap with my younger brother


I've got 15 years between me and my baby sister. It's interesting, isn't it, to have almost a generation between you. Did people think you were his mother when you were growing up? I'd be out with my mom and my sister and folks would assume baby, mother, grandmother. I always thought my mother was sooooo gracious when that happened. She'd say, "No, it's fine. I could be her grandmother, but I happen to be her mother."

My father was 45 and my mother was two months short of 40 when Sharon was born. They seemed soooooo old to me to be parents of a baby. But when Zara was born I was five months short of 40 and didn't feel like I was old at all - I was kind of in the middle of the age range of people I knew with kids. Autre temps autre moeurs.
(Deleted comment)
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From:musamea
Date:December 15th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
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What an adorable story! Thanks for sharing it. *hugs*
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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for reading it!
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From:eveningblue
Date:December 15th, 2006 07:00 pm (UTC)
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That's a very sweet story.

It sounds like Doran made a very thoughtful decision for an 18-year-old, and you are a very special mom for supporting him even though you didn't want him to enlist. I hope he learns from this experience and is able to grow and mature, and stay safe.

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From:mofic
Date:December 15th, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the kind words and good wishes!
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From:asher63
Date:December 21st, 2006 06:27 am (UTC)
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Hey, this is kinda late but I loved reading about Furgood Marshall!

Congratulations and best wishes to Doran, and good on you for keeping a positive attitude. It will make all the difference. May he have a safe and rewarding enlistment.
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From:mofic
Date:December 21st, 2006 12:02 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for reading and for the good wishes. Poor Doran sounds totally miserable. I'm hoping it gets better and sending him letters every day.
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From:asher63
Date:December 21st, 2006 01:22 pm (UTC)
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Sorry to hear he's having a rough time. Is he in boot camp now?
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From:mofic
Date:December 21st, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)
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Yes, and only a couple weeks into it. I hear everyone hates it at first. I'm just hoping it gets better for him.
From:joel_rosenberg
Date:December 21st, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC)
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I'm told by somebody who has been through it that this is a pretty good, detailed summary, although things have changed a bit since his time. (One thing that remains the same, he says: the week on mess hall duty is one of the highlights. As it was explained to me, the mess sergeants just want to get the food served and the place cleaned and then go home, and aren't interested in in hassling the recruits.)
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From:mofic
Date:December 21st, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm somewhat mistrustful of anything that says that pugil sticks are "fun." I do have a day-to-day current schedule of what he's doing.

When he wrote you that "have to get out" letter they'd barely begun. Today is "Throws and Falls" :-(. I'm writing upbeat, encouraging letters every day like they say I should, but I'll tell you it's breaking my heart.
From:joel_rosenberg
Date:December 21st, 2006 05:04 pm (UTC)
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Never having done the pugil stick thing, I don't have a personal opinion -- but I can say that at least a half dozen Marines have, over the years, volunteered to me that they enjoyed that part of Boot camp, although it apparently used to come later than it does now. (To be fair, only one of the three that I asked about it have ever subsequently gotten together with friends to hit each other with sticks, pugil or otherwise -- he's into escrima. Which I can say, from personal experience, when working out with somebody who is really good and was determined not to actually hurt me, was fun.)

Different, err, strokes for different folks.

Another letter going out today.
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From:asher63
Date:December 21st, 2006 06:37 pm (UTC)
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'I'm somewhat mistrustful of anything that says that pugil sticks are "fun."'

Heee! Actually pugil sticks are about as dangerous as a pillowfight.
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From:asher63
Date:December 21st, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC)
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The first weeks of boot camp are the toughest. I went to Camp Pendleton in 1989, and got assigned to a combat unit as a TOW gunner after boot camp. There wasn't a war going on when I enlisted, of course, but we did see action in Desert Storm in 1990-91.

Good luck to you and Doran. And Semper Fi.
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