Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and the only “Fi” was “Hi” and not “Wi”, we had a stereo. We didn’t gather round at dusk and listen to Little Orphan Annie, but we did play records. As we got older, my sister and I developed our own taste, but in the beginning, the records we chose from were those of our parents. In later years my mother would develop an unaccountable predilection for hair bands, but my early music memories were slightly less Slippery When Wet and more Islands in the Stream and Bad Girls. There were LPs from Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass, Peter, Paul and Mary, Donna Summer, Air Supply and Kenny Rogers. I fondly recall that Puff the Magic Dragon frolicked in the autumn mist and can still sing along to “Hot Stuff”. I still know almost all the words to one of my mother’s favorites, “The Gambler”.
He said, “Son, I’ve made my life out of readin’ people’s faces, And knowin’ what their cards were by the way they held their eyes. So if you don’t mind my sayin’, I can see you’re out of aces. For a taste of your whiskey I’ll give you some advice.
We were Northern Yankee folk. I grew up in Red Sox country. Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd country. Patriots when the New England Patriots still sucked country. Real country music was for Texans and strange folk who said “y’all” and ate grits, wore funny hats and cowboy boots. Yet for some reason my mother latched on to Kenny Rogers and The Gambler got frequent airplay in the little blue ranch deep in Kennedy land. Embedded though Mr. Roger’s countrified, country-fried tale may be in my psyche, it is with great surprise that I find myself using it as advice to my kids.
You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”
Life with my 4th grader at the moment is a bit like living with a reincarnated Johnny Cochran, a small, floppy haired Oliver Wendall Holmes, but without the intelligence, education or chutzpah to back him up. The boy has an answer, a negotiation, an argument for everything. It’s pushed beyond exhausting and has now entered quasi narcoleptic. It’s great to think outside the box. It’s great to come up with alternatives and Plan Bs (and Ds and Es and on through L). But for the love of God, child, not everything is a moment to prove your tweenage litigator skills. I’ve found myself, standing in the kitchen at the end of my rope, quoting Kenny Rogers.
You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em
Son, listen up. There are going to be plenty of fights worth fighting. There are going to be times in your life when you’re going to need to rise up and right the wrongs, when you are going to need to stand up for your own beliefs, when you find yourself standing alone, far from the madding crowd. There will be times when you are going to need to stand up for someone you love. There may even be times when you find yourself allied with folks you never thought you had anything in common with. Those are the times to fight. Those are the times to hold ’em.
There are going to be times when your father and I are wrong. Times when we make rash decisions, decisions based on fear or anger or ignorance. Those are times to hold ’em. There are going to be times in your life when you see something that you know is wrong. Those are the times to stand firm, hold your cards to your chest, and bluff your way to what is right. Hold ’em tight and hold ’em steady.
But son, hear this: you need to ask yourself if what you’re fighting for is worth the argument, the angst, the potential fall-out of a pre-menopausal mother. Not everything is deserving of an opening statement. Not everything needs to be debated in family court. Though it seems unfair, right now I get to be judge, jury and executioner. That’s my prerogative as parent. Sure, I try to be as fair as I can be, and sure, sometimes (rarely) I get it wrong, but that’s just the way it is. You’ll understand when you have kids of your own. So when your iPad time is up, and you see me cooking dinner, cleaning out the guinea pig cage and fielding a phone call, that is not the time to argue for more time. That’s a time to fold ’em. When I’ve give you an answer, more than three times, even if it’s not the answer you like, that’s a time to fold ’em. When there’s something we’re pretty clear about, something that goes against our parental judgement, our family ethics, don’t go all Alan Dershowitz on us. That’s a time to fold ’em.
Not being allowed to do every, single thing you want to do, at the precise moment in time you want to do it does not warrant a flurry of briefs. Life is a long, bumpy ride. Not arguing about whether the sky is blue, trying to convince me that I’m wrong or simply disagreeing that what I see as white you see as black is going to make it a hell of a more pleasant ride, for both of us. Because don’t forget, I’m stuck on that train bound for nowhere right there next to you.
So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow. Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light. And the night got deathly quiet, and his face lost all expression. Said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy, ya gotta learn to play it right.
Son, you’ve got to know when to walk away. And in the case of a harried, frenzied, hormonal mother, it wouldn’t hurt to know when to run. Oh, and don’t smoke, carry whiskey on you or talk to strangers on a train.
This piece has been brewing for a while, and originally started here, at The Tao of Mom (Part I).