[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 20, 2023] ©2023
Of all the fantasies one has as a new mom, one never imagines that some day that adorable blob will be a social work graduate student assigned to write a paper analyzing the psychopathology of someone he knows well. And that he will choose you.
Let me just say up front that we couldn’t have been prouder of our older son, Rory, when he decided to get his Masters in Social Work and graduate from his somewhat limited career opportunities in Food Stamps and MediCal Eligibility. The pay was not great in those fields and most of the time, Rory wasn’t too far removed from being on food stamps himself.
The call from our scholar started out innocently enough.
“Hi, Mom,” said Rory. “I was wondering if you might help me out with a paper I have to write for Human Behavior in the Social Environment. I have to analyze another person according to three different theories of psychodynamics.”
“Sounds really interesting,” I said. “So, you want me to proofread it?”
“Um, not exactly.” A tentative pause. “I was kind of planning on you being the person.”
I would like to say that Rory was not the easiest child. (His version is that I was not the easiest mother.) I’ve heard it said that you have the most trouble with the child most like you. Rory and I are both intense, highly emotional people. Blond and blue-eyed, he even looks like me. All of which is fairly amazing since he’s adopted. Henry, my biological child, bears no resemblance to me whatsoever.
Rory’s special power was an exquisite sense about what would push my buttons. He pretty much had them on speed dial. As my second husband, Olof, always said, “Rory looks for excitement. And finds it.”
Rory’s escapades were so numerous that they were pretty much known in family shorthand: the Jolly Jumper baby brother slingshot disaster. The dropping the big rock down the chimney onto the metal grate two feet from where Mom was reading prank. The spray-painting Henry silver crisis. The Cleveland airport catastrophe. The Jack in the Box ketchup packets under the tires spraying the black sports car affair. The Philadelphia airport debacle. The 15-inch rubber penis in the guest bath during mom’s dinner party event. The Bomb Squad incident.
He even hacked my library account at one point and ordered me such titles as “The book of the penis,” “The illustrated guide to lesbian sex” and “Coping with your colitis and hemorrhoids.”
Readers may remember the homemade Mother’s Day card he made for me when he was 10 which read, “You’ve been like a mother to me.”
People have often asked if I make up the Rory stories. No, you could never make up the Rory stories. Even the ones where he attempted to re-enact scenes from horror movies by making scritching noises on the glass of my bedroom window in the middle of the night. He is by far the most diabolically creative person I have ever known. But it was encouraging that now, in his early adulthood, he was showing signs of applying that exquisite psychological awareness into forces for good that did not involve terrorizing his mother.
I’m embarrassed to say how often Rory and I got into huge screaming matches as he was growing up. (See “buttons”, above.) Olof said more than once that we should both go to our rooms. Meanwhile, my younger son, mild mannered Clark Kent, my biological child, would shake his head and wander off muttering, “Why am I related to these people?”
The normally placid Olof was distraught when he heard Rory’s plan about the term paper. He pleaded with me: Against all odds Rory survived to adulthood without any felonies being committed on either side. Why, why would I risk it all now?
But Rory persisted. As a student of behavior, it was an opportunity for him to learn more about the factors that influenced his mother’s formative years. And to help him understand why I was potentially the worst mother in the history of the world.
Olof finally relented, knowing the cause was lost, but insisted, “But you can’t read it, Inga. Promise me.”
Shortly thereafter, a long list of questions arrived, and numerous email and telephone conversations ensued. The great and small triumphs and tragedies of my life were reviewed. And in the end, I ignored Olof’s express wishes and read the final product: Seventeen typed pages on the psychodynamics of Mom.
And I have to say, it was a strikingly sympathetic portrait. I really came out of this okay. Even Rory said he had an entirely different view of me after he finished it than when he started.
“So,” I said, “what kind of grade did you get?
“‘A’ for the paper,” he replied.
But an all-too-familiar I-just-can’t-help myself smile suddenly appeared.
“And ‘C’ for my mom’s personality.”
Here are two of the books Rory reserved for me when he hacked my public library account. Actually, both turned out to be incredibly educational reads.