The Five AM Conversation

There are moments in life when you recognize the passage from youth to adulthood. Sometimes those moments are obvious community rituals, like a coming of age ceremony. Other times it is a more private or impromptu moment when a parent or other adult acknowledges that you have joined the club, and no longer attract that extra scrutiny and judgment of your behavior that is applied (rightly or wrongly) to youth. I participated in no formal coming of age ritual in my own youth, but I certainly remember informal moments when it is clear that you have transitioned from being treated as a dependent to being treated more as a peer.

One of those moments would come once or twice a week at approximately five in the morning when I would come home from my friend’s house (occasionally by car but usually by bicycle) and before I stumbled down to my room in the basement to fall into bed and sleep, would encounter my mom, the early bird, just arisen and still in the process of fully waking up. We would have a short pleasant conversation, me still finishing Saturday and her starting Sunday, before we went our separate ways for the rest of the day.

I would have spent the evening to the wee hours most likely holed up in the basement of one of my friend’s parent’s home (having shared a bottle of wine and smoked a little weed as well) and playing some big war-game (see “Boys in the Basement”) until we were to bleary to continue. Then I would ride home through the streets of my hometown of Ann Arbor with the sun about to peek up over the eastern horizon, the fresh breeze on my face helping to clear the haze in my mind.

What was remarkable about these five AM conversations was not so much what we talked about – maybe just chitchat on mundane everyday stuff – but that there was no “Where have you been?” or “What have you been up to?” parent monitoring their kid stuff. I was twenty years old, had a job, had my household chores of shopping and laundry, and we were basically living our mostly separate lives but in the same house, her mostly upstairs in her bedroom (see “Bills on the Bed”) and me down in the basement. My brother Peter, now seventeen and still in high school, was still requiring some of her parental attention and maintenance, but not me, and she was happy not to worry about it.

She had made the choice not to worry about the fact that I was out with friends until all hours of the night, including drinking and using marijuana. At that time, eighteen was the drinking age in Michigan, and marijuana possession was a generally unenforced $25 ticket by local ordinance. I did not share with my mom the sordid details of my vices. They were obviously under control because I could hold down a job, do my chores, and was available and supportive when needed. After years of proving myself (starting perhaps in Europe, see “Burnt Out in Brussels”), she now trusted me and my judgment completely. She still would occasionally pester me to go to law school and become a lawyer and I would invariably laugh and say, “Forget it mom!”

And she, in turn, (a divorced and available woman) did not share with me the details of this or that man she was having this or that relationship with. I trusted that she would take care of herself and not enter into any serious relationship with a man that was not healthy for her. It was just nice to have each other to depend on in those rare occasions when we could be of assistance to each other, or otherwise to chitchat.

After being with my mom through years of her fighting with depression and loneliness, and her helping me through some rough patches as well, we were both happy that the other seemed to be doing better and did not require our intervention. We both had other fish to fry.

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