Sneaking Out

by Prudence Mackintosh (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002. Pp. 162.)

sneaking-out-prudence-mackintosh-coverMothers of all boys seem to be members of a secret society—a society with no meetings or training workshops. So rearing sons is on-the-job training for women, many of whom have never before been surrounded by so much testosterone. It’s a land of legos, toy pistols, tree houses and lots of physical contact.

Skilled writer Prudence Mackintosh closes her story of raising three sons in Dallas, Texas, with a third work, Sneaking Out. Mackintosh has the likable ability to intrigue readers with entertaining tales of raising her sons. Her work has appeared in Texas Monthly magazine and her previous books Thundering Sneakers and Retreads. She narrates her tales with her witty style, contagious humor, an uncanny ability to turn mundane occurrences into readable adventures, from an apparently bottomless pit of source material. This volume chronicles the boys’ high school and college years.

Mackintosh’s writing style is easy. Her subject matter is simple to relate to. She picks out a few incidents to share in a straightforward, but whimsical style. Raising sons is not for the faint hearted (though I suspect the same could be said for raising daughters).

After the family played host one summer to a French boy in the age range of her offspring, Mackintosh did an assessment of the impact on her sons.

“They acknowledged that they could still sing the Pizza Inn commercial in French. They also knew the French word for ‘leech’ after watching Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn in Africa Queen and hearing Nic (French guest) yell, ‘Les sangsues, les sangsues.’ Sensing that I had hoped for more, they launched into the mimicking routine that I had squelched all summer. ‘Pahs zee butter, Muzzer,’ said William. ‘I am wait with great impatience,’ Drew added. ‘My bruzzer, he ees too faineant, lazy,’ Jack offered. All was not lost. They had learned to speak pidgin English with a French accent.” Mackintosh concludes, “ Thenk hevvin for leetle boys...”

Phone calls from preteen girls, driver’s license fiascos, the first job, college applications, and aging parents are some of the other topics Mackintosh includes in the book which departs from her previous two books in that there are several serious chapters.

brother-still-play-as-adults

Brothers still play as adults. These are not the Mackintosh brothers.

Especially painful is her recital of her desperate attempts to reach son Jack on September 11, 2001 in New York City where he was working. At the time, she and husband John were in a remote area of Montana on a fishing trip. Phone contact was available at the lodge in the evenings, but cellular phone service was nonexistent. She made many fevered calls before she was able to reach him the next day.

“My call from Jack finally came through. His building had been evacuated around 3 p.m. the day of the tragedy. With wet paper towels on their faces, he and his coworkers had hiked north to a Twenty-second Street pier, where they found a Coast Guard boat willing to ferry them to New Jersey. He was physically okay. The exhaustion in his voice, however made me reluctant to press for any more detail. Assured of the safety of immediate friends and family, but still strangely separated from the suffering of the country, we (those on the fishing trip) sang a verse of ‘America, the Beautiful’ outside after dinner...My son was safe, but I was certain that someone I knew probably wasn’t.”

She summarizes, “We are haunted relentlessly now by the events of September 11, but in some ways grateful that the news came to us in a place that buffered despair.”

In the final chapter, Mackintosh presents her defense case, “A Disclaimer for My Daughter-in-Law (If I Ever Have One). In this chapter she gives a final good humored, light hearted look at the men her sons have become, then she reflects on the job she has done.

She opens the chapter, “Nothing brings a mother of sons more feelings of things left undone than the thought of handing one of them off to another woman.”

Perhaps that is every parent’s fear. Have we done a good job? Are we finished? In my experience you do not feel you are finished yet it is time to let them go. So you release them to begin their new life together as a couple. They are launched to begin their own orbit.

Will we hear again from Mackintosh once the ‘boys’ are married and raising their own children? I am betting we will. I hope we will. Mackintosh has such a winning way of expressing her feelings and experiences we want her to keep on writing about her family. Until then, read Sneaking Out, or try her earlier books which are hilarious. Thundering Sneakers when the boys were very young started her trilogy. Retreads covers their elementary and junior high years. Whichever volume you pick you, you will be delighted, especially if you too are a mother of sons.

Frances “Mother of Four Sons” Gilmore

Get "Sneaking Out" from Amazon.com

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