At the intersection of parenting and presidential politics…

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors assigned an article from The Atlantic, with the recommendation that if we subscribed to only one magazine or journal, it be that one.  Twenty years later I have followed this advice faithfully, and have never been disappointed.  Atlantic articles and writers have shaped -and challenged- my views on a wide variety of issues.  So when I saw a book by a writer I have come to respect and admire, Ron Fournier, about his own parental journey (a topic I still struggle with), I decided to read it.  And was, again, not disappointed.

Love That Boy:  What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations (Crown Publishing Group, 2016) take its title from a visit Fournier and his family made to George W. Bush’s Oval Office on the author’s last day covering the White House for the Associated Press.  The story is charming (I’m abbreviating it here to get to the gist of the title):

“Where’s Barney?” my son shouted.

The five of us stood in front of Bush’s desk, which, like everything else about the Oval Office, had a history…”Where’s Barney?” Tyler shouted again, in a voice so inappropriately loud and demanding that I jumped slightly.

Bush smiled and nodded – first to an aide and then to the lawn.  “He’s coming.  He’s right there.  He likes to sit out there.”

Tyler launched into a one-sided conversation, firing off one choppy phrase after another with machine-gun delivery…I cringed.  Tyler was a loving, charming, and brilliant boy – he had a photographic memory – but he was somehow different.  His voice was jarringly deep and loud for a kid his age.  He fixated on topics, like presidential history and animals.  He was, in a word, quirky.  But the president was enchanted.  He laughed, listened, and asked Tyler several questions about dogs before gathering us together for photos…

A few minutes later we were walking out of the Oval Office when Bush grabbed me by the elbow.  “Love that boy,” he said, holding my eyes.  I thought I understood what he meant.

I didn’t.

It took me years to understand.

Now, I was never a Bush fan.  In particular, I thought the Iraq war was a mistake from the start, and events have, I believe, proven me correct.  But a high school friend I deeply respect and admire was one of his advisor’s, and this story shows a side of him that moves him up several notches in my estimation.  It also underscores a basic truth about parenting:  sometimes our children are not going to be who or what we expect, and how we handle that, how we love them in spite of that, makes all the difference.

The discerning reader will have guessed at what it took the Fourniers years to figure out:  Tyler has Asperger’s.  This diagnosis, and the attendant guilt it brings up in his father, serve as a catalyst for a series of road trips designed by the author’s wife to encourage the father and son to bond over a common interest:  presidents and their history.  Together they visit several Presidential Libraries and homes, as well as meeting with current and former Presidents.  Along the way, Fournier reflects on what he learns about his parental expectations, about Asperger’s, and about how to help his son grow into a happy, thriving young adult.

My daughter and I have had a lot of conversations lately about “parenting”.  She and her husband are considering this next step in their lives, and I suspect it terrifies her.  I do think that it is harder to be a parent than ever, not least because “parenting” via Pinterest/Facebook/Instagram/the Internet in general has made us think there is one correct way to do the job, and that if we screw up we’ll be single-handedly responsible for another person’s lifetime misery.  What I like so much about Fournier’s book is that he tackles these myths head-on.  He is very honest about his own failings, and about his false starts and mistakes with his son.  He also offers hope and encouragement.

I’ve been thinking about this book quite a bit lately within the context of the presidential election, obviously because it deals specifically with presidents past and present, but also because of what we learn about the presidents we meet as humans beings beyond their public persona.  It will come as no surprise to anybody who knows me that I consider Donald Trump to be not only an unacceptable presidential option, but an actual threat to the survival of our civilization.  And I wonder: how would he handle an autistic five-year old in the Oval Office?

My children are both grown and gone and (I hope) reasonably happy.  But I still ask myself what I could have done better, or differently.  My youngest keeps the family at a remove, and that is painful for me.  Fournier’s book helped me step back from my perennial self-doubt and see that I was doing -and continue to do- the best I could with the information I had.  He also helped me see that the gap between what we expect and what we get can not only be overcome, but celebrated.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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On travel and turmoil…

Well, it’s a good thing I don’t have to support myself with my writing.  Given that I haven’t found anything to say here for over two months, I’d sure be hungry right about now otherwise!

In my defense, June and July were tumultuous months for me.  The last three weeks of June were spent on a fabulous, perspective altering trip through the eastern Mediterranean with my dear friend, Deb.  A week after returning, and while still in the throes of severe jet lag, my father-in-law passed away.  While that wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was still emotionally draining for a wide variety of reasons.

So this post is going to be a bit different.  While I have – of course! – been reading, the books don’t necessarily lend themselves to stand alone reviews, so I’m trying a different approach.  What follows are “memorable moments” with corresponding photos (since a picture is worth a thousand words, right?)  One caveat:  pretty much every moment was memorable for a variety of reasons, so these are just the ones that tend to float into my mind most often, usually when I’m trying specifically to clear it, say during yoga.  And in fairness to myself, I did subtitle this blog “Reflections on books, travel, and whatever else occurs to me…”  Along the way, I’ll mention what I was reading.

Memorable travel moments

…Walking into the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the first time, then gazing at the (mosaic) face of a long dead Byzantine empress.

…Bosphorus cruises by day and night.

…Walking into the challenging-to-find-and-seemingly-forgotten Church of St. Savior in Chora (now a museum) and gazing at too many breathtaking mosaics to even wrap my mind around.

Finally succumbing to the entreaties of a carpet salesman and participating in the tea drinking/wallet challenging ritual of viewing lovely Turkish carpets.

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…Observing the breaking of the Ramadan fasts, with the attendant festivities.  The Blue Mosque was spectacular at night with a projected light show and music, and there were fireworks all over Istanbul.

…Visiting the Basilica Cistern and gazing on the face of an upside-down Medusa.

The “Turkish bath” experience at the Hagia Sophia bathhouse.  When they had me on the big marble slab covered in bubbles, I truly felt like I was on a cloud!

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…Boarding my first ever cruise ship.

  …Reading during “sea days”, or just gazing at the passing coastline.

Waking up in Greece!  Exploring Mykonos and my first proper Greek ruins at Delos (“The Birthplace of Apollo”).

 

…Waking up to Valletta, Malta!  Exploring the island and marveling at pre-historic spiral carvings in the Archeological Museum.

…Waking up to Catania, Sicily, where the elephant statue in the main square really charmed me.  Deb and I had the Greco-Roman Amphitheatre there almost to ourselves, and spent hours exploring with just the occasional feral cat for company.

Pompeii.  Enough said.  And even though I don’t love tour groups, I was glad to be in one, because otherwise I suspect I would STILL be there exploring.

…A drive along the Amalfi Coast, where none of my pictures could capture the stunning colors or the smell of lemons.

Exploring Rome and actually knowing what I was looking at this time!

…Getting a text message from my daughter about the bombing at the Istanbul airport.  We were supposed to return to the US via Istanbul, but were instead able to negotiate with Air Canada to return directly via Rome.  As a result of that extra day, we visited Ostia Antica, which is sort of like Pompeii without the crowds.

  …Mosaics, mosaics, mosaics…  One day in Rome, Deb said “Do you think you’ll ever reach a point where you’ve seen enough mosaics?”  My answer:  NO!!

 …So many fabulous meals!!! So many food pictures (too many to post here…)!!!  I still wake up every morning wishing there were an expansive buffet (Istanbul) or fresh breads (Rome) for me to start my day with…

What I was reading:

La madre del cordero: Curiosidades y secretos de la simbología cristiana (Spanish Edition) Kindle Edition, by Juan Eslava Galán.  This very exhaustive study of Christian iconography was quite helpful in informing how I looked at all the art I encountered during my trip.  It also seemed to take forever to finish…

Memorable July moment:

…The funeral of my father-in-law, who served in the military during the Korean War.

What I was reading: 

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press, 2015).  This lovely book explores the author’s attempts to work through her grief after the death of her father by training a goshawk.  The prose is exquisite, and the explanation of the intricacies of falconry makes for unusual and fascinating reading.

Hopefully some of the turmoil from this post’s title will soon calm down. Of course, there is an election looming that has me worried about the future of civilization…