Monday, November 05, 2007

Rock Star — A Miniseries (honest!)
(Part 1 of 2)

An unbiased opinion?
Funny how your own words will seem to betray you sometimes. Just the other day I was pontificating to a friend of mine on the subject of loving your children equally. On the occasion of her second child’s birth, she wondered whether her new baby would somehow be affected adversely by the lessened amount of attention she would be able to devote to her, compared to the unlimited attention she was able to give to her eldest child. She was concerned that such a the limit in access to Mommy might instill rivalries that she did not wish to be a part of her two girls’ relationship.

I opined that such circumstances were unavoidable, but that it was my wife Michelle’s and my policy to be as completely impartial as we could be in the amount of love and attention given to our two kids, whose needs seemed to be as different as their personalities. I also noted how well adjusted our children have apparently turned out as young adults. Hopefully we did something right.

To that end I truly believe that we were mostly successful in achieving that goal in the raising of our children, but the concern my friend had was still a factor throughout their upbringing. One always claimed the other was receiving some sort of preferential treatment. However the examples they could dream up to support their claims were often as amusing as they were maddening, because of how hard we worked at being as consciously fair about everything as we possibly could be. We weren’t perfect, but I believe that such perceived improprieties can be bred as much by personality as by parental preference one way or another. In the case of our two kids as they were growing up, I can definitely see how that has in a large way contributed to the types of people they are today.

That being said, as I sat down Sunday afternoon to write a brief photo mashup about Michelle’s and my time in Chattanooga Saturday, when we traveled to see our daughter, Amy’s latest thespian effort, I began to feel self-conscious. It occurred to me that it might appear as though I wasn’t quite practicing what I had preached.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that while Amy has been the subject of numerous blog series’ of mine, I have talked relatively little about my son, Shawn. However I’m here to say that this fact has nothing to do with any preference for my daughter over her brother. It actually has much more to do with her involvement in theater and the opportunities that has afforded us to spend time with her when we come to see her plays.

Having been involved with it all through high school and making it her major in college, the fact is that we have always made coming to see our daughter’s on-stage exploits a regular part of our investment in her life. That tradition has continued following her graduation from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga this past year.

However, while I make the conscious effort to not play favorites between my kids, I do admit to feeling closer to my daughter because of these times that her Mother and I spend with her, despite the fact that we actually see Shawn more often.

Amy’s personality is much more similar to mine than is her brother’s, a fact that sometimes seems to feed our clashes as much as it nourishes our common ground. However the affirmation Amy and I give one other is indeed special, and is more direct than that afforded by the relationship I’ve always had with her older bro.

Our first born is a guy’s guy. He’s handsome, athletic, and intelligent. Even more so, he’s popular; he has, as they say, never met a stranger. He knows no fear — in social situations or otherwise. He’s a competitive rock climber and has been involved with the sport since he was in high school, having first become active in climbing in Boy Scouts several years earlier. But don’t let that Scouts moniker fool ya; he’s no goody two-shoes. He may not eat nails for breakfast, but he’s plenty tough.

Professionally, he’s been an arborist since his senior year of high school, a job that provided a substantial stream of spending money throughout his college years, requiring him to only come home and work part-time during the summer and perhaps a few long weekends during the school year. Not only does it pay well, it also it scratches his adrenaline-junky itch. He’s the guy way up in the treetops, battling what would be certain acrophobia for most people, as well as power lines, poison ivy, and the blowing wind, all conspiring to make one slip or bad decision a costly one.

This is the kid who, to celebrate his graduation from high school, went out with a couple buddies that night to take a bungee jump off the 145-foot Natchez Trace Bridge here in Williamson County (right) with a homemade bungee cord! Of course we didn’t know anything about the stunt until several months later.

But is that tough, or just plain fuckin’ nuts? Yeah, Shawn’s our wild child. He’s convinced that the world is his oyster. Things have always come pretty easy for him.

The bottom line is Shawn doesn’t ‘need’ his Dad’s outward approval; he already knows he has it; not that he won’t still subtly seek it from time to time.

He was the one of our two kids who seriously rebelled and acted out in high school; he of the magenta Mohawk doo fame, and the tongue piercing he obtained illegally as a minor without our permission, all while in the process of becoming an Eagle Scout — yeah, go figure.

Shawn was always one of the cool kids in school, a status I always marveled at from afar, seeing as how it was so foreign to my own experience at a similar age. Despite the fact that we had no real financial status in the community, Shawn always seemed to be one of the most popular guys around. He never seemed to try — he didn’t need to — he just was.

He always got the girl — or girls, plural. My son never had to pine for attention from the opposite sex like his old man. He’s a babe magnet.

As a result of Shawn’s extreme popularity, Amy, being two years his junior, had a tendency to dwell in her brother’s shadow when she arrived on the high school scene. Given the difference in their personalities, I can understand why. Amy is a much more introspective, sensitive type; she has an artist’s soul, hence her love for theater, which would ultimately be her salvation: an identity for herself apart from simply being known as ‘Shawn’s little sister.’

Amy’s never been a wallflower, but rightly or wrongly never seemed to feel that she could stand up to Shawn’s reputation. Like me, Amy has a somewhat chameleon-like personality. Gregarious, funny, and always personable, but ultimately comfortable with not being the center of attention.

Shawn on the other hand, while tender hearted (but don’t tell anybody, aiiight?), exudes a quiet confidence and a masculinity that is almost disarming. He doesn’t necessarily seek the spotlight; it just always seems to find him. I don’t know how anyone could possibly feel uncomfortable in his presence. He’s one of those ‘all-things-to-all-people’ kind of guys who can walk into a room and immediately make it his own.

In short, he’s hot, ladies.

But then again, so’s his sister.

Flying Lessons
I think that if they were perfectly truthful, our kids would both admit they’ve got it made. They know that we would go to the ends of the earth to help them if and when they really needed it. Nonetheless, they also know that the apron strings have been officially cut. They’ve both graduated from college and no longer receive any financial support from us. However that doesn’t mean they don’t still enjoy a few parental perks.

I paid for and still own their respective automobiles, and consequently, since they drive them, they’re automatically covered under my auto insurance policy, saving them both over a thousand dollars a year. However, as I mentioned recently, the insurance subsidy will be short-lived, as Michelle and I continue our efforts to help rather than stifle our little birdies efforts to soar on their own.

And that’s the thing that makes me feel so good about the decidedly affirmative direction our kids seem to be headed; they both seem to be as excited about being adults as we are for them. It’s extremely gratifying for us as their parents, and in no small measure adds to my current feeling that life has never been better or more rewarding for me than it is right here, right now.

However, Michelle and I are well aware that you never really stop being parents. You never reach the point, hopefully, that your children cease to look to you for affirmation and on occasion, direction in their lives. However, of course, the balancing act begins now that they’re finally on their own. I've found that I have to be a little more judicious in the way I distribute the opinions and assertions that were formerly a matter of daily discourse between me and my kids — something that is fairly difficult given my personality. But you certainly never lose the desire, and hopefully, the forum, to administer the appropriately timed emotional support your children need from someone who they know accepts them unconditionally.

Our forum with Amy, for the most part, has been through her plays. It’s always been a time in which she’s gotten to have us to herself, basking in the glory of us doting on her singularly. And while she’s now graduated from college, and saving money for a potential move next summer, she continues to hone her craft participating in Community Theater in Chattanooga, and this past weekend finished her second play for the local company.

Shawn on the other hand, has only sporadically continued in his high school endeavor of competitive climbing, and has no other avenues of involvement for us to be a part of, comparatively speaking. On the other hand, he did spend a lot more time at home throughout his college years, while Amy lived in Chattanooga almost the entire time she was in school.

As I’ve mentioned before, Shawn has traditionally been more of a homebody. He’s been around a lot over the past several years, and has enjoyed the one-on-one face-time with Mom and Dad. He really matured in college, and we were always quick to tell him how proud we were to see the person he was growing into. I’d like to think that’s one of the reasons he liked to stick closer to home. Michelle and I of course enjoyed having him around as well.

Recently he has been getting his parental fix by offering his services and expertise on how we should address the stand of trees that lay directly in back of our new house lot. It’s officially deemed neighborhood common area, but we’ve already been given nudge, nudge, wink, wink approval to develop the approximately 200 feet or so, directly beyond our property line as we see fit. Shawn has offered to come in and do all the necessary trimming and pruning of ‘our neck of the woods’ to make it a beautifully functional space. You can just see how pleased he is with the fact that he can do this for us. It’s really neat to see.

So the bottom line is that we have always loved our kids equally, but in their own way, in accordance to their personal makeup and emotional needs. And despite the apparent advantages that her brother had over her early in the game, if you asked Amy now, I’m sure that she’d agree. Despite her brother’s rock star status in high school, the playing field is now dead even.

However on the occasion of this past weekend, it was Amy’s turn to be a Rock Star.

Next: A play on words
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