A feminist plans for her Marine son's graduation

May 21, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

Pity poor Joe. It is his first baseball season, and his mother's a sportswriter."

That's how I began one of the first essays I ever wrote about my family life. It seems like a million years ago now.

All this time later, this column should begin: "Pity poor Joe. He's a Marine and his mother is an aging hippie."

My son graduates this week from the U.S. Naval Academy, and he has elected to join the U.S. Marine Corps.

I am filled with an odd mix of pride and dread, but for the moment I am concentrating on having a good time. Naval Academy graduations have always been one big party in my town of Annapolis, and this time I'll be throwing one.

But Joe's career choice has made me the object of endless ribbing from friends, not to mention a few awkward moments.

"Is he doing this to make you mad?" I have been asked. "Is this OK with you?" is another frequent question, asked as if I actually get a say in all this. It might be easier for me to explain if he had decided to become a priest.

During my freshman year in college, National Guard troops killed four students at Kent State and then marched down the road to Ohio University where, after a night of anti-war rioting by students, they lined the streets of my college town with fixed bayonets while administrators closed the school and ordered students out of town.

Joe has never let me forget it. He acts as if it was I who started the free speech movement at Berkeley or occupied the president's office at Columbia or blew up a ROTC building at Wisconsin.

I was nothing but a bit player in moccasins, jeans and a headband, I tell him, attending sit-ins and listening to speeches and throwing wet towels off my dormitory fire escape to the students below who were fighting police in a haze of tear gas. He shakes his head and walks away. "My mother, the hippie."

Our divergent politics is the source of endless banter between us, most of it surprisingly good-natured. We may be the only liberal and neo-con, aside from James Carville and Mary Matalin, who could live under the same roof.

"Is Halliburton making dinner for you tonight, or am I?" I have asked when he agitates for an early meal. "Feminism!" he shouts back in reply, his fist raised in a mock power salute.

We argue over the anti-war columns from The New York Times that I send him. "Liberals are people who always see both sides of the same side," he tells me. "Did your new Marine friends tell you to say that?" I ask.

My husband, who stands with my son on the right side of the line drawn down the middle of our house, said he wasn't worried that other mothers and I would show up at the graduation wearing inappropriate T-shirts because he expects us all to be handcuffing ourselves to the White House fence instead.

"Very funny," I said. "None of my friends are coming anyway. They found out Dick Cheney was speaking, and they all suddenly decided they needed to stay home and make a dip for the party."

Joe and his friends are thrilled to shake hands with the vice president.

"This isn't Santa Claus or the Easter bunny you are meeting," I admonish these midshipmen. "This man is the dark shadow behind the presidency."

They laugh at me and chant, "Repeal women's suffrage!"

Like I said, Naval Academy graduations are a lot like weddings. You hire a caterer and get your house painted and your carpets cleaned. You send out invitations and fret over RSVPs.

But during quiet moments I think about another column I wrote, on Joe's 10th birthday. I saw it as "the year of letting go." The year I would have to grant little freedoms to a boy on a bike. I marveled at how quickly a decade had passed and wondered aloud where Joe and I would be a decade hence.

This is where we are: An aging hippie, determined feminist and unrepentant anti-war protester. And her son the Marine.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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