Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breaking Away: Sonny Boy Style

It was late at night when I finally decided to go see it.

For weeks, I had refused to even acknowledge its presence, but I knew it was time to go and confront the object of my confusion and disappointment.

Opening the garage door, I flipped the light switch and the single naked bulb that hung from the ceiling coated everything in the sticky light of a sleazy barroom.

There it sat: a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle, this metal mosquito on steroids, this tramp the color of garish lipstick come from the underbelly of the lower realms of society.

In my thinking, motorcycles were only owned by balding, tattooed men with ego problems and five illegitimate children in each state. I guess you could say I was a tad prejudiced. So, when my gentle eighteen-year-old, peace-loving, vegan honors student announced one night that he wanted a motorcycle, I laughed.

“Come on,” I said. "You've got to be kidding.”

He wasn’t.

My laughter stopped. “There is no way you are getting a motorcycle,” I said. “It’s out of the question.” HOB backed me up completely.

“Didn’t you have one when you were my age?” Sonny Boy asked his dad.

“Yes, and that’s exactly why you aren’t getting one.”

HOB and I weren’t too worried. We knew our boy and we knew he’d see that we were right. Sonny Boy had always been the kind of kid who obeyed us, who heard our opinions and then went along with them. Besides, we had two things working in our favor. SB was notoriously tight with his money, and he was also incredibly reticent to talk to people he did not know. He’d never work up the nerve to go and make a deal with a stranger.

Together HOB and I made a pact: we’d offer no help. No money, no encouragement, no offers of help of any kind. No problem.

Weeks went by and we found a few signs around the house that he was searching the Pennysaver for ads. No harm in that we guessed. Used equipment started coming into the house: a riding jacket from a teacher at school, riding boots from his girlfriend's father. I imagined him returning them when he came to his senses. “Here are your things back; I don’t know what I was thinking,” he’d say with a smile and a shrug.

Our eyebrows rose when he signed up for the mandatory motorcycle safety course for $250.00. When we reminded him he wasn’t getting a motorcycle, he explained very slowly to his idiot parents that getting his license now, even if he didn’t get a motorcycle, would lower his insurance rates later if he ever did get a motorcycle, say, after my funeral.

He passed the safety course. He got his license to drive a motorcycle.

During the next few months, as he searched the newspapers for motorcycles and made contacts on Craig’s List, I began a campaign of finding articles about the dangers of motorcycles and placing them on his desk. I scanned the obituaries in the morning paper, morbidly hoping for a death from a motorcycle accident, so I could tape the obituary to his computer screen.

I wheedled his girlfriend. “Talk some sense into him. You don’t want him to die, do you?”

I told him insurance would be too high for him to afford.

I tried everything.

“Vegans don’t ride motorcycles,” I told him.

One night at dinner he stated in a flat, expressionless voice that he needed to go to the bank and withdraw $1000.00 and wanted to know if we knew anything about liens and incomplete titles. I looked at my husband across the table. We had kept the pact of offering no help. Now, HOB offered general information but no more.

The next night, just before Sonny Boy left to go over to see a guy about buying his motorcycle, I thought about my inexperienced son going over to some drug-dealing motorcycle-riding low-life’s garage, handing over his life’s savings and getting ripped off then forced down to the floor and branded with a skull tattoo.

“Maybe you should go with him,” I said to HOB.

He crossed his arms. “We said no help.”

“I know, “ I said, “but just go over and stand behind him and try to look tough.”

HOB sighed, “I’ll go, but I am completely against this thing and he knows it.”

They returned an hour later. Sonny Boy came in first. Was that disappointment on his face? It was hard to say, but I was hoping. HOB came around the corner next, glowing like an excited five-year old. Sonny Boy must have told him he was giving up.

“How did it go?” I asked hesitantly.

“Sonny Boy says I get to ride his motorcycle when he gets it!” HOB blurted out.

Apparently, the concoction of garage, exhaust, gas, grease and testosterone had done its work on HOB. He was a goner.

I left the room quickly, feeling sick.

There were more obstacles Sonny Boy had to overcome before he got his motorcycle, but he overcame them all, and now the machine sat in our garage and I stood before it, staring and thinking on that dark night.

I breathed in the smell of gas and oil, the acrid but sweet smell associated throughout our lives with movement, with acceleration, with journeys, with adventure and with people leaving.

In his quiet way, Sonny Boy was reminding me that was not my little boy anymore. He was a young man, moving out into the world, making his own decisions, listening to his own voice and valuing it, even above mine.

In that moment, the dim garage became a sacred chapel and I placed my hands upon the red metal of the motorcycle and said a blessing over this machine, this symbol of inevitable change.

Deep in my primitive soul, I recognized the heat coming through the metal. It was the warmth of a fire that has burned throughout history: of sons growing up, breaking away, and leaving home, a fire forever remembered by the mothers who stay behind.


Melinda said...

As the mother of an 18 year old daughter...I feel your pain.

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

Oh, Betty. You are such an exquisite writer! I bow to your amazing literary skill! This was just brilliant!

As to the issue of your son and the motorcycle, I will pray, too! Good luck!

Old Kitty said...

Awww Bossy Betty!

"Vegans don’t ride motorcycles"

I love that line! May I use that line for my imaginary 18 year old about to be Wild One?!?! :-)

But seriously! As one who doesn't have an 18 year old rebel with and/or without a cause - I can only say that you are a wonderful beautiful and caring mum and that Sonny Boy is one very lucky boy indeed to have a mum like you. And HOB too - to have him as a loving dad he can relate to now more than ever with the smell of grease and the roar of a motorcycle!

Take care

Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I admire his determination to get the bike, but it still scares me and I'm not even his mother. I work for a newspaper and in the last year I've written about a number of motorcycle accidents. Still, I'm sure your son is responsible, won't speed and will be careful. Just tell him that no matter the law in your state, wear a dang helmet! Please!

Peggy K said...!! Betty, I feel your pain. But as I told a friend last night, just know that you have raised a good, responsible kid!! Envision bugs in his teeth from the big-ass smile he has, knowing his parents are letting him be an adult!!!

Joe Cap said...

This is a great post, Miss Betty.
You have laid it all out exactly how I would have felt.
You and HOB are great parents...I am sure that SB will be safe and responsible.
We have to pray for their safety whether they ride a bike, drive a car, or just walk to the store.

Caro said...

I have owned 3 motorcycles over the past years. I have lost a friend because of this, but have also met so many wonderful person and discovered a passion that will never leave me. The only thing I can tell you is gear him up. As we say a rider without gear is a stupid rider. If it's to hot outside to wear gear, it's too hot to ride.
If he wants to start doing stunts dont get mad at him, but tell him that there is some place that specialize for this and to please not try to speed or do stunt on the road. There are some race tracks out there with professional assistance and medical assistance.

And tell him to enjoy himself!

Mr. Stupid said...

I could easily see that you and HOB are great parents. I am sure SB will be careful and responsible. HOB made me laugh in the end though! So did he get to ride the bike?
My Mom didn't have much of a problem. I can't even ride a Bicycle properly...

Have a good day!

My Mind's Eye said...

Oh Betty you are a brave and wise Mom!! Having only raised a daughter,
who, BTW, turned is a beautiful young woman, I can only imagine how hard it is to raise a son. As a child my daughter was deathly afraid of the motorcycles that zoomed by the house. This was a comfort in a way because I knew she'd never ride one. While in college, she met the young man who would become the love of her life. He came riding in her world straddling a motorcycle. I too had all the same feelings you did about those who rode motorcycles.
As we started to hear bits and pieces about this young man including the motorcycle...I knew he was THE ONE!! I bit a ridge in my tongue trying to keep silent about the machine. Then we met him he was not at all like I expected he was 1 million times better. The motorcycle seemed to be a rite of passage for his age. He bought it to traipse around the University he did not take passengers...and yes he had a car. Praise be to the heavens I said to myself. He sold the machine the same week he got his sheep skin....Great big hug to you.
Madi and Mom

Alissa Grosso said...

Wonderful post.

I briefly toyed with buying a motorcycle a few years ago when gas was getting out of hand expensive. Yes, mild mannered me. My reasoning was that motorcycles were a whole lot cheaper than little fuel-efficient cars. I eventually decided not to because there would be a good 5 or so months when the weather would make the motorcycle useless.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I can just see my stepson and my Hub doing the same thing! Hubs had a bike when he was that age, and swore that his kid would never, ever be encouraged or supported to buy one. But I could see them both being drawn in by the allure of it all. It's tough when you have to let go and let them make their own decisions. - G

LittleSilkDress said...

"this metal mosquito on steroids, this tramp the color of garish lipstick"

Your description of the motorcycle absolutely made my day. Thanks for helping my day get off to a great start!

Marlene said...

Pardon my ignorance, but have you ever written a book? If not, YOU SHOULD. If you have, please lead me to where I can buy it. Seriously, you write SO WELL.

I'll tell ya a little story. I, too, was was totally turned off by motorcycles for the longest time. Then, hubby introduced me to his old bike (he'd had in storage for years). He wanted to ride again. I was pissed.

He encouraged me to just go for one ride with him, and if I didn't like it - I never had to go again...and he'd honor my wishes and put it away.

One ride.

It wasn't so bad. Then I went for another ride.....and another.

The following year, I was picking out his brand spankin' new Honda Goldwing, complete with heated seats. (I wanted to be comfortable, you know).

Since then, we've taken several 2,000+ mile trips on it...and we love it.

I totally agree with the poster above who said to make sure the rider is properly geared up. I always ride with my helmet, leather chaps and protective jacket and boots. ALWAYS.

A Tale of Two Cities said...

Boys, boys, boys. Why, oh why? Guess it's the natural Instinct they are born with to yearn for the "speed and risk." Hope God answers your prayers with safety for your son. Such a poignant story--what a gift of writing you have!


Writing Without Periods! said...

Motorcycles...ugh. I worry about my daughter's BF on one.

qandlequeen said...

Standing there with you and holding your hand. My ex just gave our daughter a motorcycle for her college graduation. And I had issues watching my babies learning how to ride a bicycle! I can't even think about that damn motorcycle.

TS Hendrik said...

I'm sure I'm echoing a thousand comments before, but you really are a fantastic writer. This story was great. Very sweet and humorous.

The girl with the flour in her hair said...

This was a well written post. You truly have a way with words. But, I might add...perhaps you're the one that should have gone with him to buy it! ;)

Missed Periods said...

"this metal mosquito on steroids"

I love this!

Talli Roland said...

What a great post - I admire him for going after what he wants with such dedication!

'Vegans don't do motorcycles' - what a excellent line!

Joann Mannix said...

Took. My. Breath. Away.

Your last 2 paragraphs were so splendid in defining this rite of passage from boy to man. Serious goose pimples, Betty.

Man, I love coming here.

Oh and yes, "Vegans don't ride motorcycles" was brilliant!

Arlee Bird said...

I was always fearful of motorcycles although I will concede that they can be economically advantageous for transportation.

I was not real happy a few years back when my daughter, who was in her early 20's, bought some kind of fancy motorcycle that was like a racing bike. She could have bought a decent car for what she paid. Fortunately her biker days were just a passing phase and she unfortunately sold the bike at a loss. At least now she's not worrying me by traipsing around on a high speed motorcycle.

Tossing It Out

Sueann said...

What a wonderful way to put the angst of having an 18 year old son. And now a motorcycle! Yikes!! I feel your pain.
And I don't think scanning obits was over the top at all!!! HA!

A.J. said...

This is life. Just breathe and recognize it... and take a motorcycle ride! Post when you work up the courage to do it.

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

That was very well written and you captured every mother's fear!

~Aint Nothin But A Thang~ said...

My husband has a Harley to tool around on once or twice a mth. Weve been married 26yrs and this has been a constant issue for us or shall I say ME lol So my boys 23 an 20 both want bikes.....I threatened them that if they do, it will come up missing! Everyone they buy to replace it with will ''magically'' disappear too lol Either their tired of the fight or are just waiting for that ''right'' moment to spring it on me!! My husbands did hide one for mths before I knew we were happy owners of a ''crotch rocket''......IT WAS SOLD (-;

Erin Janda Rawlings said...

That last paragraph literally sucked the air out of my lungs. I fear for this day. . . and he's only 13 months old.

You are an awesome mom!! It takes guts to let them be their own people!!

Betty Manousos said...

Love this post, Betty. Great story! Love your subbtle sense of humour!I'm sure that SB will be responsible and safe.
Big hugs!
B xx

My Mind's Eye said...

Betty I delivered your message to the Mom...she is glad her comment made you smile!!! She likes smiling too. Mom says she should have added that the daughter and that fine former motorcycle guy have been happily married for nearly 12 years!!
Madi and Mom

Ms. A said...

Won't take up a huge comment space, but will say this one brings up all kinds of emotions, for me. God bless you and keep him safe.

Brian Miller said...

sounds like you tried your best...i used to ride a dirt bike when i was younger...a couple years back a teen i was working with got one...and i became a boy again...just for a few rides...

liz said...

I was planning on rallying the troops to kick HOB in the patootie, but then you got all sentimentaly and stuff at the end! Ooh, BB! He's always your Sonny Boy!

Unknown said...

Congratulations on passing into yet the next phase of parenthood. I loved you final line "the mothers who stay behind."

One Photo said...

Betty you write so beautifully about matters of your heart and this I can tell is one very close to it. I grew up with motorbike loving guys and there is such an allure, despite the dangers. So I can understand your son wanting one just as much as I understand your complete fear of him getting one.

Ann said...

How dare they grow up and get minds of their own. I don't recall ever giving my son permission to do that but he went ahead and grew up and out anyway. As nice as it can be being the parent of an adult child, it's also rather sad.

Kazzy said...

That's a tough one! Love your "Vegans don't ride motorcycles!" effort though!

Relax and breathe deep. He will be okay.

Lindsey Buck said...

Oh man, motorcycles scar the snot out of me! I doubt I'd ever really be tempted to get one, haha...

Anonymous said...

Awww, Betty, i could cry.

I want to say you wrote it beautifully, but the pain is heart-breaking.

Babies will always remain their mother's- know that.

Theresa Milstein said...

I tried everything.

“'Vegans don’t ride motorcycles,' I told him."

You did try everything.

That must've been so hard. At my children's ages, I still have a lot of control over their lives. Each year, my hold lessens, and I can't imagine when I've lost nearly all control. What decisions will they make? Will they remember my words? Will they be okay?

Letting go must be hard.

Nat said...

Hello! Thanks for the follow, and it's great to find you - I think you write wonderfully.

I am completely terrified of motorcycles!

Powdered Toast Man said...

Tell him to get a sidecar so you can protect him at all times. I've never been on a motorcycle. I'm scared.

Maggie said...

This was so beautifully written. My kids aren't old enough for that yet (thankfully) but Hotty Hubby is talking about getting a motorcycle and it terrifies me.

cake said...

an excellent post. and, so refreshing to read an account of a difficult moment, that includes such honest self reflection.

Copyboy said...

Yeah, Jews and really fast toys don't really mix. I do wish your son the best though. BTW...when I first read the title I thought it said Sunny Bono. That certainly would've been an odd post.

Anonymous said...

BB this is one of my favorite posts. "Vegans don't ride motorcycles". Ha. I love your stories. Sounds like you have a great kiddo there. Even if he did have to go and grow up on you.

Maggi said...

Awwww, what a story. I'm so glad I made God promise that Toot will never grow up and leave me but stay a baby forever...LOL ;)

Muthering Heights said...

Yikes! That would scare me too!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Betty: I guess the important thing is he wears a helmet and watch out for other drivers. Talk to him about the importance of being extra careful with these pocket rockets.

Jimmy said...

Very Nice Post Betty,

I know you and HOB are excellent parents by the way you handled this situation and you are so right about the pain and fear so to say of a Mom watching her Son become a Man but become a Man he will because of the parents you two are.

Now you know me I'd be like HOB and have to take the bike for a test drive too.

DrSoosie said...

We may stay behind Betty but we are always linked to them. I am not sure what I would do if my SB came home with the same intentions. But I suppose you are right in supporting his growth into a self-reliant man. We want our boys to grow to be strong men who will one day lead a family and also have to make decisions about what to do when his son or daughter comes home pierced, tattooed or sitting atop a Harley. I love how you ended kind of blessing the bike and begging it to keep your son safe all at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Betty, Anthropology GOBS says we need to talk.


Cheeseboy said...

Oh Betty - I feel for you here. You always seem to stretch out every last ounce of emotion from me.

I hope he safe. I hope he is smart. I had a scooter for 2 days and took it back because I thought I was going to die.

Bob West said...

I enjoyed visiting your blog. Very insightful! Hopefully, mine will be an encouragement to you.
God Bless, Bob West

Alexandra said...

You know what, your posts keep me riveted,

I have to read every word...

Heidi said...

Wow, powerful Mom. I love reading what life throws at you :)
(thanks for the prayers)
Heidi & Jack.

Jerry said...

Now bikes scare the crap out of me, and I can imagine my reaction is one of my kids had their eyes on a motorcycle way back when.

That said, I am pleased and amazed at the careful adult planning and responsible efforts that Sonny Boy put forward. For this you have to admire him. If all bikers showed the same smart responsibility we probably wouldn't even be talking about this.

And obviously I'm pleased and amazed at how well you told your tale. I hope you'll allow me to join your league of followers.

Pat said...

What an excellent piece of writing this is! I thoroughly enjoyed it! I laughed, I cried.

Sounds like your son is a responsible kid - researching, taking things slowly. Not all motorcyclists are idiots. Seriously.

Your husband? too funny!

Hilary said...

Betty, this is a wonderful piece of writing... and a sentiment I know all too well. Yours got a motorcycle. Mine joined the military. Letting go is tough. You totally cracked me up with “Vegans don’t ride motorcycles,”

Pat Tillett said...

59 comments! Maybe you're gonna be the next Una LaMarche..
I wouldn't get than many comments if I wrote and posted the Magna Carta.

Great post! That's a tough one to get used to. It's hard enough when our kids start driving cars. MC's are another matter altogether.

"Vegans don't ride motorcycles"
that's a classic!

Shan said...

Sending lots of driving clarity to your son... and even more awareness to the drivers around him!

citymouse said...

Why was growing up so much easier when we were the ones doing it? I find watching my kids grow up (and into adults) can be excruciating. My 19 yo son got a huge tattoo on his chest a few months ago and I think my husband is literally still ill over it.

Sounds like Sonny Boy did things right and is responsible. That should help ease your heart a little.


I'm starting to get scared about putting my son on a bike, let alone a motorcycle! lol I want him to stay four forever!

Unknown said...

What a traitor HOB is!! I hate that they ever have to grow up! My kids are staying little FOREVER!! :)

Nishant said...

I love that line! May I use that line for my imaginary 18 year old about to be Wild One?!?! :
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LadyFi said...

Change comes whether we like it or not. This is a brilliant and insightful piece of writing!

Anonymous said...

Wow! That is what I call brilliant writing. And how we have all felt that fear.

Congrats on a POTW mention at Hilary's, and by the way...I am that old lady you want to be...and it's fine and fun.

Cricket said...

Others have said it but I'm going to add my own: Vegans don't ride motorcycles - Ha! Brilliant.

My youngest wants a motorcycle. Fortunately, he's four. I rode a motorcycle once - rode, not drove. It was, in my opinion, terrifying. 60 mph feels totally different on a motorcycle.

I don't even care for driving too much. Walking is about my speed. Trains, buses... you get the idea. I was 22 when I got my license. Definitely not one of those who hits the registry on their 16th b'day.

On the other hand, lots of my friends ride 'em without much problem. I'll offer a quick prayer for your son's safety and for your sanity, how's that?

Congratulations on the potw.

(Vegans don't ride motorcycles... lol)

Daryl said...

Moanie said it best ... and Congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary

Unknown said...

congrats on the POTW mention from Hilary.

and you are a better mom than me.. I would have pulled the not under my roof card.

It's hard , this mothering thing,
hard and so so incredibly wonderful.

as is your writing.