Monday, June 20, 2011


Last Friday our eldest Harley, 13, graduated - they call it "promotion" here - from his elementary school, a kindergarten though 8th grade Oakland public school. That means for the past nine years he's spent six hours a day with the same 23 kids.

We talk a lot about tolerance, but this is it. He has never fallen out with a classmate and rarely speaks badly about anyone. He doesn't gossip about what goes on at school - I wouldn't catch a whisper of the occasional drama if I weren't good friends with the girls' mothers.

Harley, age 6. First day of school, 2nd Grade
Harley, age 13. Last day of school, 8th Grade
And yet he has another trait - do the two go hand-in-hand? Insouciance. I had seen that word written so many times and never quite knew what it meant.  Recently I saw the word used again by Sarah. It basically means slacker. Lighthearted unconcern, nonchalance. It's the opposite of anxious or solicitude, the uneasiness of mind. Perfect! When once I thought of Harley as being peculiarly disinterested and content to do everything half-arsed except for watching acreages of television, I now have a beautifully lyrical word to describe him. Two beautiful words actually: Insouciance Decelere.

Harley's yearbook photo
Flicking through his yearbook I happened to notice Harley's baby photo was one that I had not seen before. Apparently Harley couldn't be bothered to bring in a baby picture of himself and handed over a spare one from his friend. The computer teacher, who was collating the yearbook, realised too late.

baby Harley
Throughout school he was genuinely dumbfounded by friends who strove for A's and A-pluses: "Too much work" was his view. His views on the future: "Someone has to go to community college." He is secure in the knowledge that there is a highly-paid job out there where the first prerequisite is to quote verbatim whole episodes of Malcolm In the Middle. The second pre-requisite knowing the stats for the most obscure basketball player at the most obscure college.

Though he never had any interest in computer games, his computer skills have us slapping our heads. Slumped in his chair, facing half-on to the computer, leg up on the wall and other hand texting on his iPhone, he can do anything on my blog, photos, in-box or whatever. I confess I might have collected him from his classroom once or, er, twice to get out of a computer pickle. When that seemed extreme, I would call him or email. "Mum" he whispered from the bathrooms once: "I'm at school, stop calling me...I already told you...just click on computer and the devices button... "
Harley's mother embarrasses him again by taking too many photos
He has five categories for anyone: kinda annoying, super-annoying, really nice, super-nice and okay. His opinions on anything - except burgers - are evinced only following hours and days of probing from me. But he never volunteers a bad opinion of anyone and has never complained about anyone at school being mean to him, though I know they have. When I enquire about scraps at school (not involving him) he shrugs, he knows nothing.

But get him on burgers and he will talk for hours.  Are In'n'Out burgers better than Wendy's? Could go either way. But the best is Nations. No further edification and extrapolation, that's pretty much the tenor of the argument.
Harley (right) and schoolfriends at Stinson Beach
Which is not to say he doesn't hear or see things that go on. Once when Tallulah was distraught by how someone was treating her,  Harley told her: "Just say in your mind: You're so bloody annoying, I can't stand it." Or, he says, just make a joke: "Is there a buzzing fly in here? I can't see anyone but I can hear something super-annoying."

After a day abseiling in Mexico, rock-climbing in Santa Barbara, playing basketball with Oakland's best or attending a carnival-like party in San Francisco, you will ask him how it was. "Good". That written four letters cannot convey how he says that word. As Darth Vader can suck the air out of the room so too can Harley suck the emotion from any given word.

In Carmel
On the other hand he is flexible and independent despite being shy. He could be happily dropped off anywhere from the age of two.  When he started school, he wanted me to just open the car door and let him hop out. He was mortified when it transpired that parents had to stand by their children at the entry door. What about I come in to help with art projects, PE, field trips? I would ask him. They have enough mothers already, he told me every time. Or: Cancelled! he would say.

He helps without being asked: he has made his own lunch since he was seven and everyone elses' since he was nine. He brings the groceries up without being asked. For years he has babysat the younger kids if we go out close by. And is always ready with a "Want to play baseball Cy?"

Though he hates being photographed, or any kind of attention, he knows to show respect. This weekend he was invited to be in the court of a classmates' Quinceanera, a coming-of-age ceremony, and he was happy to wear a tuxedo.
Harley signs the book for Victoria at her Quinceanera

Harley was just about to turn five when he started our little Oakland school of 350 children. We had just arrived from London where he had attended a private pre-school opposite Hyde Park called Ravenstone House. It was set in an leafy old cemetery where the bodies had been exhumed. Somehow he had acquired a plummy accent. But he slipped into his new school instantly and within months he had gone from "Mummy - what's for tea?" to "Yo, yo, s'up, mama."

He did keep a few expressions for a while. After escorting him to the hallway, his long-suffering kindergarten teacher asked:  Do you know why you're here? To which Harley answered: "We've been very, very, naughty."

And he was often heard to mutter: "Oh bloody hell, not another Learning Centre again!"

The girls in Harley's class kept telling him before graduation: "Your mother will cry so much at graduation. You're her firstborn. She'll be so sad." Harley replied: "Oh she's not like that. There's no way my mother will cry."

Harley at his Promotion
"He's gone now" parents of much older kids told me: "Once they get to high school they're gone from you." Part of him will still be here, continuing to watch endless re-runs of Two and a Half Men.  Interspersed with shooting hoops... right outside the TV room. But when I saw him walking down the aisle at his graduation ceremony, I saw the truth and I cried. I knew that part of him had left forever. And it was a very sad day.


  1. What a delightful story, Jodi!

    One thought. Had you planned on hooking up Mr. Harley with Mr. Davidson, and then letting them wheel around town? Well, perhaps not. But the Harley-Davidson connection would be "interesting."

  2. He sounds a cool guy your son. It's funny how teenage boys love to squat the sofa. Mine would take up permanent residence if he could - he's already asked to be allowed to sleep on it!

    My youngest wouldn't let me come near the school either. I was instructed to wait in the car park on the other side of the road, and the next year to let him come home by himself. I love the way they assert themselves and strive for independence.

    (ps thanks for the plug. :) )

  3. What a beautiful story and moments!

  4. I enjoyed this post so much! Nice pictures!


  5. Our insouciant boys!Don't you just love 'em?

    I have often wondered why my 15 year old seems permanently wedged into an old sofa in his room, until I lay back on it at the weekend to help him (yes, for once he asked for help) with his Latin exam. It was just so comfortable and soporific. Tempted to replace with hard chair!

  6. I love how you describe him. My Drew sounds so much like him. And I was crying yesterday as he walked away following his Kindergarten teacher for the last time down the hall to the class. Next year he'll be at school for a full day, and it feels like with this promotion my little buddy/baby is all grown up. Ahhh the joys and frustrations of motherhood.

  7. Great story, Jodi! I really love having found your blog. Your posts make me smile! And this one, a beautiful graduation tribute to a great, laid back kid, who is so like my little guy, was amazing to read. Wishing him the best in HS!

  8. Forgot to add, his little trick with the baby photo made me laugh so hard! Love it!

  9. Jody, you have me almost in tears. This is beautiful- funny, sweet, articulate, and expressed just perfectly.

    You truly "get" him and believe me- that is not always the case. And it sounds like he truly gets you. And I know he appreciates that... that you let him be who he is. "Insouciance" and all.

    I feel it with Jacob- like he's slipping away- as I've written about... He'll be in age grade next year, and although it is *happy, it is sad as well.

    It sounds like you have a charming, good-natured, mature, - not to mention- computer-savvy :) son, and although things will change, they will still be the same too :).

  10. Oh, sweet! What a tribute to him. He sounds like a wonderful first-born to have. And a great brother. :)

  11. He's so handsome and sweet. And Harley is so lucky to have such an amazing mother {sound cliche, but I really mean it} - I love how you get your kids in the most essential way.

    xoxo Mary Jo

  12. Wow can't believe you have a graduate!!! he looks so grown up in his suit! too cute

    Also wanted to let you know I gave you a Stylish Blogger Award today on my blog . . . check it out when you get time

  13. Of course you cried....the mother/son thing is a powerful and beautiful your head and heart you know the baby/toddler/little boy and as he grows you start to see the man.......a proud feeling that is bittersweet as you know he is going out into the world without you, just as it should be...he looks and sounds great so 'pat on back' ..well done did good!

  14. The most of these pictures are so cute.
    Lovely pictures.
    Xx Liefs

  15. That last bit...!

    What a great description of him. You must be so proud!

    Oakland Tech? I know that a few years ago, I asked you about that, and you were considering it. Curious what you decided on. We need those poineers...

  16. I really like the way you wrote this post. You have an amazing way with words. He sounds like a really nice guy. :) We need more of those in the world.
    Twitter: @GlamKitten88

  17. Your guy is growing up! How lucky he is to have you as a mother! :) I'm sure it was such a bitter sweet day!

  18. He sounds just like my son - from the insouciance to the endless repeats of Malcolm in the Middle via the "as long as I pass, who needs an A?" attitude!!

  19. It's true. Those teenage years... they go away. They get distant. But you know what? They find themselves. And in their twenties they come back to you. So I've been told. ;-)

    As for his insouciance... no healthier way to be in this stressful world of ours.

  20. Cue the tears. My little dude is about to turn 3 and I feel like I'm a step away from that. Time needs to slow down. Ha!

  21. Oh Handsome Harley. Swoon. He is one of my favorite kids on this planet. Congratulations to him and you. Great read, Jody. Made me all teary too. Damn you.

  22. Jody, this is a wonderful post! Harley sounds so much like my son! Mine is a few years younger, so it is nice to look into the future a bit. ;) The quote about community college made me laugh--what a character!

  23. Lovely photos!! They are all so cute. You are such an inspiration. Love you blog and now following! Maybe you'll have time to visit my blog:)


  24. Who says he'll 'leave you'? He just might not!!! He seems to make up his own mind instead of just following the crowd no? I've been assured that not all teenagers hate their parents!!!! (Hope hope...)

  25. Amazing post. He sounds a little like my 7 year old. Blimey. I think I might have to read it again and pore over the photos. Am a little infatuated with posts about sons, obviously.

  26. Thank you so much for sending this to me. One reason I will miss Harley is his warmth, understanding of others, and compassion. It is clear he gets that from you. This was so well written, I just kept reading wanting more. He never let me know about his computer skills. I wish he had. Please wish Harley my best in high school. Sometimes they find something there that motivates them to make a best effort. Keep being a patient "teacher". He can really be outstanding!

  27. What a heartwarming story, I have both a son and daughter the son 25 has not left home yet and my first born although she was gone for 10 yrs undergrad - graduate - and law school she is back now probably for just a short time but I seem to have a full house again :)
    You have a very lovely family and yes they grow up too fast.
    ♥ Noemi
    Fashion: Classy N Glamorous
    Travel: Across The Sea


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