Martha and Louie today

My grown son, Louie, has a radio show, Late Night with Louie (I’m the mother of the new Howard Stern) and one night I was listening when someone asked if he came from a broken home.

Somehow he managed to get to be 23 without ever hearing that phrase and said, no. The guest then said, oh your parents are still married and Louie answered, no, they got divorced when I was two.

When the guest told him that’s the definition of a broken home, he set her straight. Without any attachment to that broken phrase he explained how happy and full his childhood was and he refused to accept that anything was broken. I couldn’t have gotten my ear any closer to the speaker as I marveled at the moments we sometimes get as parents when we catch a glimpse of something wonderful.

Life as a single mother with Louie was wonderful and constantly surprising. Thank goodness I knew he was smarter than I was. That’s what made it possible to look out a window and see him on his small tricycle, legs out to the sides, whizzing down our very steep driveway, his curly hair straightened by the wind blowing past him, and not worry. Or watch him attempt to pet every living creature, sometimes getting nipped by the geese down by the lake in the process, and not worry. Eventually the geese gave in and let him pet them, and he gently stroked their heads and chatted with them. They would turn their heads slightly and look at him till he was done talking.

He did get nipped a little hard once by a garden snake and it made him mad, very mad. His three-year-old self whipped the snake into a half-knot, for which he felt instantly sorrowful and he came to get me to help untie the snake.

“What?” I asked, in the middle of vacuuming. “You did what?”

“I tied a snake in a knot and I need you to help me untie it,” he said, calmly. His entire little person fully expected me to handle the situation.

I turned off the vacuum, still looking at his calm expression, wondering if maybe this all meant something else and I would find something else tied in a knot. Tied a snake in a knot?

There on the front step was a long black garden snake slowly, very slowly, untying itself from a very tight half-knot.

“Help it,” Louie said.

“Why did you do it?” I asked.

“It bit me,” he said, offering up his hand with a small red mark; no skin was broken. “Untie it,” he repeated, looking back down at the snake, which was fortunately making progress on its own.

“No, it’s getting somewhere. We’ll let the snake handle this one.”

Louie wasn’t completely satisfied and stayed to make sure before depositing the snake back in the grass. It didn’t try to bite him again.

Life with Louie meant that he decided at five to climb yet another tree. This time the very tall pine that used to be right outside our front door and didn’t stop until he was above the roof line. Wisely, he decided to sit on a comfortable branch and wait patiently for me to come looking for him. In the meantime he would yell hello to any neighbors he saw who would turn round and round looking for him, before giving up and just yelling hello back in the general direction of his voice. Everyone knew Louie and knew he must be up to something but in the end, he would also be okay. That was life with Louie. Scary, potentially dangerous, weird, funny, sad, touching, and always turning out okay.

Standing underneath the tall pine, directing him down as I tried to gauge where to stand so I could act as a human mattress if necessary, I would repeat to myself for the umpteenth time, “He will grow up in spite of me. He will grow up in spite of me.” When he got to the ground he gave himself one good shake, looked up at me with a grin and said, “You should see the view from up there!” He quickly turned and took off running to look for something else to discover.

Louie’s adventures were always an odd compliment to my own adventures as an undiscovered writer, and a good reminder on the days I wanted to give up and do something sensible. Sure, that would look like the reasonable thing to do and would have made a lot of my relatives feel more comfortable, but would have drained all of the fun out of life for me and taken away the possibilities that risk can often bring.

Besides, you should see the view from here.

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