Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Family folklore and legend--vitamins against the culture of the day

Our family's story is not unlike that of many families these days. My husband and I have been married to our first and only spouse for almost 25 years. We've been contributing members of society. Teachers. Community volunteers. Members of the church board and active in the life of our church. We have two sons. They have been given every opportunity, as well as clear limits when needed. In other words, in a loving and stable home, they've been trained up in the way they should go...and one has seemingly been derailed much of the time. It's not easy from the outside for others to see the frustrations and heartbreak parents experience watching bad choices and lost opportunities for a bright and talented kid. It is easy from the outside to fix blame on family. On the inside, we know it isn't about us, it's about a sensitive and reflective young man trying in the worst possible way to make the break from his parents in blazing fashion. It's not easy, as any other parents who've traveled this way will tell you.

Yet, sometimes those rare windows of time open up in which the whole family can recall the stories and legends of the past 18 years in smorgasbord style. The boys were both home from school with some flu bug the other day, though I suspect it may well have been the medium rare venison roast Dad made the night before. Whatever the cause, they were sick puppies. I called from work to remind them that sick puppies could not go sniffing in garbage cans that evening, since they weren't well enough to leave the kennel for obediance school!

The 18 year old grumbled and groaned, but told those friends who called he had to stay home.
Yeah. Cause I didn't go to school. Long pause. Yeah, I know. (Which I believe is code for "yup, my parents suck!) They predictably didn't want much to eat for supper. Neither did I, for that matter. No cooking tonight!

I suggested we all sit down at the table and play a game, even if we didn't eat supper. No one wanted to do anything requiring much thought. We used to play games all the time, so there were many choices from within the game cabinet. We settled on Parcheesi. The older one groaned, telling me "They don't call them "bored" games for nothing, Mom!"

At first, the prodigal son just played in a perfunctory fashion, not allowing any expression to escape his face. After a short while, though, recollections of other times sitting at this table, playing various games, began to be retold. The time all three of them started a rhythm chorus, "Stomp" style, with the dice cups in order to drive me to distraction. The time Dick rolled a 9, and began chanting a la the Beatles, "Number 9, Number 9, Number 9," while the younger son, then still wearing footie sleepers, lay on the floor, spinning in time to the chant. The image of that bit of family folklore sent us all into hysterics, even the dour prodigal.

By the time we'd reached the end of the game, many bits of the legends that bind us together and allow us to call each other "family" had been retold. My son was smiling, even laughing, and he relaxed into the family from which he's spent so much of his effort lately trying to break away. He was reminded of the shared history he has with the rest of us, history he can never capture in his current group of friends.

I'm glad we have this shared folklore in our family. Television is rarely on in our home. Books and stories have always been abundant, along with arts and crafts and outdoor experiences and music and service and faith. Though the older son will continue to make mistakes and try our patience, though I will not stop worrying--ever--I know that he's already been given a lifetime of love, seasoned with family stories, to carry him through these dark days into the light.

Postscript--An excellent resource to help families build their own family folklore can be found in the pages of the Call of Story website. http://www.callofstory.org

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