September 2013

My three sons

By Suzanne Strazza

Someone called me an angel the other day, but my guess is that secretly he was thinking, “Idiot.”

I’ve taken on another teenage boy; welcomed him into my home, my family.

Holy shit, right?

So he’s this great kid who hasn’t had a great life. There are horror stories and terrible “events” and big mistakes on everyone’s part. After being passed around all of his short life, he ended up with legal guardians who finally decided that they couldn’t actually deal with him and the stupid-ass choices he has made.

So, in steps Suzanne Elly May Strazza, Taker of Strays. I had been thinking that three cats and two boys weren’t creating enough chaos – and I haven’t rescued anything living in years – so I was mentally on my way to the shelter to pick up a stray dog.

But I got a child instead.

It wasn’t really even a conscious choice – one day there were three people in this home and the next there were four. No discussion to speak of – he just sat down at the dinner table and spread his sleeping bag out on the couch and Bam! I have another son.

I always wanted more children – it was actually a huge bone of contention in my marriage. I barely got him to agree to one and then two; a third was absolutely out of the question.

I wanted a bigger family for me, but what I really wanted was for my boys to have another sibling – more allies, more fun.

Then I got divorced and old and fixed and it wasn’t an option any longer.

Which, in the big picture, was for the best. I love brand-new babies and I love teenagers, but all of that in-between stuff…I’m pretty terrible at it.

So really R feels like a gift from the gods – a child without pregnancy, sleepless nights, or the F-ing Fours. He’s already gone through puberty, knows how to read and can do his own laundry.

I’d always told him that if he needed a place to go, my home was open. I guess I never really saw it happening, but happen it has, so we are adjusting, gratefully.

Of course, one might question: Suzanne, you can barely put food on the table as it is and you certainly have no grasp on things like homework and where your children truly are when they say they are at So-and-So’s house. Can you really take on a third and not have it all come tumbling down?

And my response, “Yes, all true, but I love him.”

Then, there is the community piece; I am awed and overwhelmed at the kindness of this community towards him and us: financial help, furniture, food, clothing, emotional support and so on. I always knew that I was surrounded by good, caring people, but what I have been the recipient of proves that I have chosen the best place to call home.

The arrival of R has also really brought to the surface the awareness of the thread by which I have been hanging in terms of parenting.

Suzanne, get your shit together.

I figure now if three kids go out underdressed in the winter, it’s not just a fluke, it’s a flaw. If no one turns in their homework on time, it proves that I am not on top of the homework game. I can’t just let three teenagers scrounge for their food so I actually have to prepare meals, which isn’t such a bad thing. I really needed a push to parent.

And the biggest step-up: being a football mom.

I know, just crazy.

It helps that I no longer have kids on two different teams (middle and high school) but now I have multiple children on the field at the same time, so there I am, on the sidelines, at the meetings, hosting team dinners and trying to figure out how to fit all of their names and numbers on the back of a single t-shirt.

I even bought a book for “Moms of Football Players.” There really is such a thing and I own it and am trying to read it to understand the game and I have gotten as far as the defense positions and am utterly lost.

I do have to say, though, between the b.o., the feet out of the cleats and the nasty postexercise breath, the stench of three sweaty, hormonal, defensive linemen after a hard practice is enough to make me gag.

Sometimes I can’t eat the dinner that I have prepared.

We’re reinforcing certain rules – mostly gender-influenced ones. I have to resist being totally overtaken by testosterone.

No talk about “hot chicks” where I can hear it.

Brush teeth.

Seat down.

No farting in the common areas.

Absolutely no drinking straight out of the milk carton

Shirts must be worn at the dinner table.

And on the subject of food – obviously they could eat me straight into the poor house. Plus, I don’t have time (or interest) to grocery shop 2-3 times a week to replenish their “supply.”

So, I have re-organized the pantry and the fridge and come up with a very simple solution; there are “No” shelves and “Yes” shelves. There is even an “Ask First” shelf in the refrigerator.

It is all very clear and if you eat something off of a “No” shelf, BEWARE. Mommy’s wrath is scary.

The cats are thrilled – they have someone new who finds them sweet, who isn’t yet sick of them and their neediness and neurosis.

I am psyched because I have another set of hands to help move boxes of books, wash dishes, shovel snow and stack firewood.

Financially we will make it work. I figure, I am already poor, so what’s a little more poor?

The line for the shower is a bit longer, as is the line to do laundry. The noise level has definitely increased 10-fold. But those are small things in comparison to the positives.

I have learned what “community” truly means. I have been given the opportunity to love another child. I have a huge reason to be thankful every single day. My children have a sibling. And I get one more hug and “I love you” at the end of the day.

Angel? No.

Idiot? Maybe.

Lucky dog? Absolutely.

Suzanne Strazza is an award-winning writer in Mancos, Colo. See her blog at www.singleinthesouthwest.com.