“My Son the Man” * Sharon Olds

Last night I shined my sons shoes; the black leather soft to the touch.

They are large now, my sons shoes and I will not be shining them for much longer.

Today he stood in a suit and a vintage tie and spoke of his 9 years at one school. He stood with us as witness: mother, father and his favorite teachers. He stood and sang his praise to his Physics mentor and the teacher who lead him to a pen on paper. He stood tall in his solid black leather shoes and his charcoal grey suit and walked us  down his path that leads to manhood.

A teacher spoke with emotion,  “And what will you do with your gift for writing? Do not turn your back on that gift. Ever.”

Another said, “You are not just intelligent, you are kind and you are courageous. I have learned so much from you.”

It was then that the boy in the man peered out.

His eyes bright as when he would find THE stick in the park as a toddler.

My boy who is becoming a man stood tall today. He had us laughing and he had us remembering

“Triumph and Tragedy. Laughter and sadness. All of this led to today…”

His shoes will need to be shined a few more times before the school year is over.

Do they need it?

No. The shine is there.

Do I need it?

Do I need, late at night when the house is still,

to hold those large black leather shoes

and polish them with black until they gleam?

Yes. I do.

I do need that.

Peace, Jen


I fear change.

Change is the only constant;



Love is constant too.


My Son the Man


Suddenly his shoulders get a lot wider,
the way Houdini would expand his body
while people were putting him in chains. It seems
no time since I would help him to put on his sleeper,
guide his calves into the gold interior,
zip him up and toss him up and
catch his weight. I cannot imagine him
no longer a child, and I know I must get ready,
get over my fear of men now my son
is going to be one. This was not
what I had in mind when he pressed up through me like a
sealed trunk through the ice of the Hudson,
snapped the padlock, unsnaked the chains,
and appeared in my arms. Now he looks at me
the way Houdini studied a box
to learn the way out, then smiled and let himself be manacled.

“My Son the Man” from The Wellspring by Sharon Olds. Copyright © 1996 by Sharon Olds.

~ by Step On a Crack on May 23, 2012.

19 Responses to ““My Son the Man” * Sharon Olds”

  1. OK, TribeLady. I love your words BEST, then i’m loving the Olds poem. That is you: You have raised a man now … worked your fingers to the bone from shining, and protecting, raising … being strict and ALWAYS loving. You have your grown up now, and i have a son who will soon need help with shoes, socks and bed time. There are no coincidences my friend.

    Our sons have graduated into their next phase.

    How proud i am (by proxy) … i’m already imaging what he will do in the future (besides something GRAND) … and i wonder how gracefully you will be there all the time, supporting your beautiful boy.

    Meet me in Minneapolis in a about 2 months? Dad’s moving.
    Much Love Mom. Awesome.


    • Ahhh! YOU! thank you my friend for your kind words. You are right: we are again on a similar path: my son this way, yours, that a way. When my son was a baby Juan’s grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His wife and I would laugh about he similarities: diapers, spoon feeding, discipline and reading to our Men. big difference: my boy was going to grow out of diapers. We will walk this together. It will be what it will be and YOU will shine throughout.

      Why MN? When? Details Tribal Sister, details….

      might just work…

      Love to you Mother of a Son,

      XXOO Jen


      • Yep, Jeff and i are talking about the “depends” days … not just for dad, right? I hope i have a few more years before THAT one.

        All will be well. He starts rent payments on June 23! That is the day we put the urn in the plot. We’re having a ceremony and Pip is invited. The Pastor will be there, and fun will be had for all. More crying … then we’ll leave skid marks on her grave and move dad to MN!!! Hell, i don’t know. We haven’t figured it out, and i’m going to be gone from May 26 – June 11. Lord have mercy.

        Ill have some internet access, but not much — not planning on spending time writing unless the Buddha has a thought or harper wags his tail. Love you, TribalTripper! mel


      • Plans! Yes. That is excellent. More tears,more laughter, more transition!

        Pip will make all well. I trust that little cutie to make this cheerful.
        Going away will be EXCELLENT! Send an email with details. Just BE don’t post.

        I am banging the drums for you Sister.

        Love, Jen


      • I feel the beat lady. I want details on all of your son’s advancements, i.e., is he going to MIT yet???? I’m so happy for him, and you proud mom. xo mel


  2. A mothers joy is one of the great beauties and wonders! Lovely.


    • My husband and I often talk about how we were just Sleep Walking through life before the birth of our son. We had GREAT active adventurous lives too!

      Being a parent is a True Gift from God. Period.

      Thank you very much for being Here!


  3. Oh, Jen–I get so choked up, imagining myself holding those shoes, thinking about a child “suddenly” grown up. Again I salute your courage in being a mom–I just couldn’t have survived the heart tugs…Much love to y’all , sis Caddo


    • Caddo I pondered your comment for a long time
      (ponder, ponder, ponder)

      YOU could have survived the Heart Tugs. You love God and God loves you. THAT Love is the ONLY Love that comes close to what loving the Kid is like.

      YOU and God are on the couch sipping Tea all the time. I often wonder how you handle THAT Love.

      XOXO Jen


      • Well, Jen–perhaps I should have clarified that I couldn’t have survived being a mom–back in the day. It’s only so recently that my faith has become full-bodied (and still growing), that I’ve had great healing (still continues). I don’t feel well-equipped to be a mom–though I seem to do alright, from a distance–so perhaps that was HIS plan all along.

        I’m so curious what is behind your last comment–how I handle God’s love…if you feel like it, email me and we’ll chat. I’m so chuckling at the notion that God and I are “on the couch sipping tea all the time”! You’re too cute. Much love to you, sis Caddo


  4. Oh how I wish I where there. To walk with him to the park. Watch EllaBee play. Talk about science. Let him feel his namesake kick in my Tummy. It wouldn’t be napping on the sofa
    Story books in hand. Cuddled up waiting for sleep. But close. Very close. Grown up boy man close. I love you guys and miss you. A


    • Antnie!

      YOU have no idea how often you came up in the process of creating this 8th grade portfolio thingy! We found stories with you in them, notes about you, drawings of you at the park on and on and on.

      It made us VERY happy to think of you and Ella Bee and the little namesake (!) kicking around on this very same ground we stand on.

      Ella’s rose bloomed Saturday; beautiful perfect palest of pink rose. We are planning where to plant the NEW ONE now. Will will choose this one.

      We are not so far afterwards; that old pond can’t keep us apart: you are in our memory boxes and in our hearts…

      LOVE Jen


  5. This entry touched my heart, Jen…from the heart and eloquent, as always.


    • Oh my. thank you very much for being here and for your very kind comment. I am a lucky woman.
      I hope the Touching of your Heart was not too hard….

      Blessings to you,



  6. Many say that our time on earth is like footprints on beachsand. I say our time is much more enduring – a little of us lives on in our children and in their children and beyond. No one really ‘dies’ – no one.

    Your words mean much for me as they remind me of my three lovelies – when we see our chldren, we see God’s hand at work.

    We parents bless and are blessed.

    Peace and luv from a friend in Singapore, Eric


  7. The first time I saw the graduation you’re about to celebrate, my son was six years old. After the ceremony, the shiny new graduates burst through the law school doors into the Denver sunlight. Every student, from the preschoolers to the seventh graders, and all the teachers and staff, line the sidewalk, to welcome the graduates back into the school. The school director rings the old-fashioned school bell, everyone cheers, and I was bent in half with the joy and the poignancy of that moment. Many years later, I watched my son burst through those doors, and walk through those cheers.

    Bring Kleenex, Mom, you’re going to need it!! Joy to you, and love for what comes next. Transitions happen every day, but shoe shinings mark major passages. For you, and for your son. Peace and love, Andrea


  8. Beautiful post, Jen.
    Do they need shining? No, probably not, but you need to shine them.
    Will the day come when your son will need you less. Yes, but love you less, never.
    You’re gracefully graduating together.
    Love to and prayers, too,


  9. Jen–How did I miss this? I’m so glad you’re writing about the constant of love. Yes. Constant. Just expressed differently.


  10. What a glorious tribute to the magic of becoming.


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