I always thought I hated poetry. Figuring it out in school was tedious: “What did the author mean in this verse?”, “What are 5 reasons the author chose the word “blue” in this stanza?” As a teenager, it was cool to like music and the lyrics of rap songs, but reading poetry was for losers. 🤷🏻♀️ And so I declared to hate poetry to be one with my peers and it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I picked up a poetry anthology and said with each page I turned, “ooh I love that poem.”
For Christmas this year, my mother-in-law gave me a copy of a most beloved book of poetry that her father gave her and that I have read from almost every time I have visited their home. I’ve taken it out many times from the library and am glad to finally have my own copy.
I have poured over many of its poems, but one poem that has particularly resonated with me lately is Like Mother, Like Son by Margaret Johnston Grafflin.
Do you know that your soul is of my soul such a part,
That you seem to be fibre and core of my heart?
None other can pain me as you, dear, can do,
None other can please me or praise me as you.
Remember the world will be quick with its blame
If shadow or stain ever darken your name.
“Like mother, like son” is a saying so true
The world will judge largely the “mother” by you.
By yours then the task, if task it shall be,
To force the proud world to do homage to me.
Be sure it will say, when its verdict you’ve won,
“She reaped as she sowed. Lo! This is her son.”
To me, this poem is both uplifting and stressful. I love the sentiment to send my son out into the world to do good and make me proud. I strive to be the kind of mother who fills her son’s soul with generosity, goodness, humility, kindness, and love. But then the stress of it sinks in – what if, because of the world we live in and in spite of my best efforts – he grows up to be a miserable, angry, greedy man?
In Silicon Valley, especially among the high-tech circles, I notice there is a lot of emphasis on pre-school. When DK was ten months old, other moms were asking me which preschools I’d toured.
“But he’s only ten months old…” I’d respond.
“I’ve toured seven, and I’ve got my name on the waitlist at six of them,” one mom told me.
“But she’s only a year old!”
“If you want the right preschool, you have to get your name on the list now,”
“Maybe. But if you want to get into the right private school, you need the right preschool. And forget Stanford without the right private school,” she said matter-of-factly.
Stanford?! My son couldn’t even use a spoon yet. I was stressed enough about his interest in learning to walk, let alone heaping on the pressure of an ivy league admission.
The thing with high-tech families in Silicon Valley is that often at least one parent is ivy league educated – so the pressure to raise a child who achieves at least an ivy league education is very real, and the pressure on teens in this area “to force the proud world to do homage to me” is intense, even culminating in a devastating suicide cluster a couple years ago.
It brings to mind another poem in this anthology, “Making a Man” by Nixon Waterman.
Hurry the baby as fast as you can,
Hurry him, worry him, make him a man.
Off with his baby clothes, get him in pants,
Feed him on brain foods and make him advance.
Hustle him, soon as he’s able to walk,
Into a grammar school; cram him with talk.
Fill his poor head full of figures and facts,
Keep on a-jamming them in till it cracks.
Once boys grew up at a rational rate,
Now we develop a man while you wait,
Rush him through college, compel him to grab
Of every known subject a dip and a dab.
Get him in business and after the cash,
All by the time he can grow a mustache.
Let him forget he was ever a boy,
Make gold his god and its jingle his joy.
Keep him a-hustling and clean out of breath,
Until he wins – nervous prostration and death.
I’m not saying an ivy-league education is not valuable or worth pursuing – but it’s not something I’d trade DK’s childhood for.
While I think the sentiment of pride in your children’s achievements is nice in Grafflin’s poem – I think the pressure she speaks of is very dangerous, both for the mother and for the son. I do not want DK to feel like my happiness is dependent upon his success. I do, however, hope he is a moral and just human being. My challenge as a mother will be to listen to my thoughts above and let DK be DK – not hover, not manipulate, not try to mold him like playdough, as described by Mary O’Donnell in Promise.I try not to cast too much shade.
I try not to cast too much shade.
Sin would be
to use the excuse
of her growth in my womb,
to imagine her as a limb of myself.
She is her own tree,
late-winter’s indomitable shoot.
She takes cupfuls of sun.
I stand well clear
as the branches stretch
like flutes playing allegros.
Not for anything
would I poison her
with an act of possession,
conceal her from the woodsman
whose task is to make room for all.