“Sir, I’ve played in six countries on three continents. And I believe the purpose of public schooling is to give kids the ability to play on decent fields who don’t have the privileges I’ve had.”
– Liam Carpenter-Shulman, Amherst Town Hall
Sometimes, I sift through the LGM archives, reminding myself of who I was back then, in the waning days of my first marriage, my children still fifteen and nine, my 2014 book not yet out, the insanity of elite soccer mother-hood on the horizon. I dribble through this or that political post I learned from writing and having torn apart, seeking traces of how my intellectual journey led me to where I now am.
Each time I find myself looking for something different, but what I always look for is Friday Nugget Blogging – that weekly catalog of pithy questions and observations by the children, mostly the youngest: my athlete, rap critic, atrocity analyst, savvy negotiator. Back then I never used his name online, but he wouldn’t mind now: Liam has ghost-live-tweeted the 2016 Presidential Debates, shamed a Governor, and played for a professional soccer club. As this kid prepares to launch next year, and my brain takes in memory in fewer slices, I find myself wistfully wishing I had spent more Fridays blogging all told, so as to have a more comprehensive dataset of his witticisms. It is one of my ironic sadnesses of leaving LGM. I guess I’ll always have his Twitter.
Just three months pregnant when planes hit the Twin Towers, I remember fearing the day a son of mine would turn eighteen and would need to register for the Selective Service. Liam would grow up in a world different than the one I knew, and he would sink his teeth into that world with a vengeance. He doesn’t recall the Bush years: his first clear political memory of a news story was being woken up to watch the announcement that bin Laden had been assassinated – something that never set well with him, my child who was careful to follow the Geneva Conventions while paintballing. When younger, his political observations ranged from the gender politics of chess to the etymology of drawing and quartering, but he always had a penchant for womens’ rights, children and the environment that has continued to this day.
When Liam was nine, he was interviewed by NPR at a soccer camp during the women’s world cup. Journalists expressed surprise that he was watching the Women’s World Cup. He shrugged and answered, “I just don’t usually see the men’s team win that much.” Recently he was the only teenager to speak at a local town hall meeting on behalf of better soccer fields at the high school. Back at home, he was self-critical: “What I should have mentioned its that when the soccer fields are poor, it’s girls’ practices that get canceled in bad weather.”
Liam has come of age in an era of active shooter drills, and has gravitated toward writing English essays on the nightmare comedy that was the duck and cover age. “We don’t live in a Cold War,” he once observed, “we live in a lukewarm war.” Even though soccer stadiums where he may play are frequent terror targets, he rightly scoffs at politicians that try to frighten his fellow citizens about terrorism: “Yeah, well, ISIS may be ‘everywhere’ and so is climate change.” Back when I was blogging at LGM I would have posted these quips here and woven some essay out of some angle on them. Now I file them away on sticky notes and screenshots, an insurance policy against Alzehimers’.
Liam and I watched an episode this week on BBC about Yazidi children rescued from Iraq and reunited with parents in Germany. Looking at each other, we ruminated: “It’s not much different than the children who we’ve stolen from the South American parents.” My mind dribbled back to our New Mexico road-trip, chronicled at LGM, where we attempted to confront local ICE bureaucrats with the human reality of what they were doing. When I see Liam championing the rights of his classmates, explaining the gender politics of Kendrick Lamar to our elderly neighbors, or speak of directing a film like Vice, I feel thrilled I raised a man who is much more than an elite soccer player.
To feel I shortchanged myself as a Mommy blogger is a bit of an irony. But as I think ahead to his final year under my roof, I don’t regret for a moment stepping back from LGM to be fully, viscerally present with this kid for the past few years, and with his older sister, a completely different human being who has shuffled off the Trump-era United States much as snake sheds a skin, and found both peace and prosperity abroad. Liam has stayed to fight.
I have one more year with the sound of his whistling, his cello, his snowboard, his ball doing ups, his inquisitive commentaries on Moby Dick and Game of Thrones while we cook, and his insistence that rap is the highest form of literature. He’s headed off next year to Brandeis, BC, Princeton or the like; I have no idea where I’m headed. I’ll soon be done shooting and editing highlight reels, cooking steak, and listening for the car to come in. In part, it occurred to me to dig through Liam’s online history to see which nuggets from my mommy-blogging past might give him ideas for college essays, but in truth he’ll likely write about something I’ve not yet heard him think about. And then he’ll be gone.
Anyway, these belated ruminations are meant as a Happy Birthday contribution to a series that captured a slice of the kids’ lives growing up and enabled me to reflect on the intersections between mothering and politics. It was a big part of what made LGM special for me, and what I miss. Perhaps his LGM history will become an 18th birthday gift for a young man who has shared not only an upbringing but a season of political history with his mother. This latest installment is my Happy Birthday gift to LGM as well.
Thanks friends: for letting me pop in sometimes, for donating to my cancer fund when I was ill and helping keep me alive for this kid, for keeping up the fight, and for all the wonderful memories.