Archives for posts with tag: motherhood

motherless day

This is Mother’s Day and I won’t get to see W for a few more days.  My own mom died in 2005 and my grandmothers when I was young so, having no plans for the day, I decided to treat myself to an asiago chicken sandwich and a new library book. Went through a drive-through, parked under a tree, rolled down the windows, ate my lunch in a leisurely fashion, and then started my book – a new one by a favorite author. I paged past the dedication and found the opening quote:

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”     -Elizabeth Stone

Just this morning my younger sister had posted this quote on her Facebook page and I had ‘like’d it; it exactly expresses my joys and fears about motherhood.

I had never, growing up, spent time thinking about having children. Never pictured myself as a grownup at all, and certainly not as one with kids around her. I had been given various baby dolls as a child but I don’t remember playing with them with enthusiasm, at least not after I got over the novelty of the tiny bottle which appeared to contain milk but which didn’t really drip into Rubber Baby’s mouth. My favorite doll games involved dressing Barbie in rags and taking her out in the yard to forage for nuts and seeds.  My Barbie had a pale blue convertible, but Ken was too inflexible to fit into it, so Barbie drove off and Ken stayed behind. There was no backseat for children.  

My dreams of adulthood didn’t extend past a desire to backpack around Europe.  I didn’t enjoy the company of children  and positively balked at the idea of babysitting, partly because it sounded like torture and partly because I had on some level a crushing sense of the responsibility of protecting another person, particularly one smaller and more vulnerable than I.

When I was 11 and my younger sister 8, one of our older sisters was killed by a drunk driver. Big sis was driving home for lunch in the middle of a workday, and then suddenly she was lying on a roadside, then being pronounced dead in a hospital. My 18-year old brother came and got little sis and me from school. Our parents had intended to wait until the schoolbus brought us home to tell us, but big bro thought we should know. When I saw him outside my classroom talking to my favorite teacher, my face must have showed alarm. A nice boy in my class said, “Why’s your brother out there?”  I remember replying, “I don’t know, but it means something big is wrong.”  Brother put me in the car and then went to get our littlest sis. When she too was in the car and he was pulling out of the school driveway, he said, “I don’t know how to tell you all this or how to make it any easier” [By now I was convinced that something terrible had happened to one or both of our parents.] “but B was killed in a car wreck today.” 

I don’t remember whether little sis or I said anything, but I do remember feeling as if something too big for my skull was inflating in my head. I couldn’t see or hear or think around it. We drove home and it was terrible there – too many people, too much hush. I didn’t know how to behave in such a situation  and everything I did was wrong [Aside: In such a situation, do not go to the living room to put on a Cher record, even if it’s the only thing you possess of which your newly-deceased big sis had seemed to approve.]. I crept upstairs to the oddly-shaped 2nd floor I shared with B and with little sis. I stared at the things on her dresser. I took a little peach-shaped spiral notepad B used as a to-do list. I lifted her sturdy hairbrush and took some strands of her long brown hair from it. I wrapped those in a page from the peach notebook. I went into the bathroom where B’s closet was and I looked at all her stylish clothes hanging there, and all her stylish shoes arranged on the floor beneath the hanging items. One shoe had a broken buckle and no match. I wondered if it was from the pair B had chosen for work that morning.  I wondered who had come upstairs with that shoe, to stand where I was standing, and had helplessly tossed that shoe in among the others.

My family seemed broken to me for years after that. My parents were devastated and the house silent, with us all drifting around like ghosts. Little sis and I have talked as adult moms about how a parent could possibly survive the loss of a child, much less know how to help the other children through it. At the time, no one talked to little sis and me; we had no idea what to say, how to grieve, or how to survive. The lessons I took away were 1) nothing and no one is ever safe, 2) there is no sense to the world and no predictability, and 3) depend on no one.  For years afterward I had dreams in which I tugged little sis by the hand, running at night through our neighborhood, being chased by the headlights of a car I couldn’t make out. In the dream I kept us cutting through yards, zigzagging around plants and trees, thinking that if only I could get us behind a big enough strong enough tree, it would protect us. The danger car would crash into it and we could stop running and be safe.

I’m not sure now where I was going with this, but for all my friends dealing with grief or loss on this day on which we exalt mothers, I wish you shelter and peace. And if your heart is walking around outside your body, I wish you both safety.

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little w

The other night after a phone conversation with W, I found myself thinking something I hadn’t thought for a while: “I have to write this in the jungle book.”

“The jungle book” is what I call a clothbound journal I got when I was pregnant with W. It has a brilliant leaf-and-bird print cover. In that journal I have written 20 years worth of memories, thoughts, and stories for W. Most of the entries describe tiny pieces of his life: words he learned, silly things he said, places we went and things we did together, his likes and dislikes and tooth configurations at different ages. That book of memories is one of my most vaued possessions. I hadn’t added any new entries since W’s high school graduation.

The other night I took it out and wrote:

You went back to ___ early for January term. You got there a couple of weeks ago and promptly got sick. Got over the fever/chills/dizziness quickly but, as you told me when you called, “As usual, my cough hung on. So I stole a couch.” You said this as if it were the most logical thing in the world. Actually you had dragged it into your room from a dorm common area – because there were so few people back on campus – so that you could sleep sitting up.

So today you called again, said that you were enjoying having the couch in your room, and that you had just gone through “a quite hermitish spell” which you had decided to break by calling me after “spider-crawling over to the window to see how many suns and moons had passed.”

W has recovered from his illness and returned the couch now, but I am still enjoying the jungle book. Excerpts:

Age 3 1/2, as I dried W off after his bath:

W: It’s not YOUR time, it’s MY time! Is not! Is too! Is not! Is too!

Me: Honey, what are you talking about?

W: My feet are arguing [about which should be dried first].

Age 4 1/2:

W: What are you thinking about, Mommy?

Me: I don’t want to tell you, honey.

W: Why?

Me: They’re private thoughts.

W (nodding wisely): Oh. I know. You’re thinking ’bout your penis.

Just before W’s 5th birthday:

You screen my calls for me. Once I heard your side of a conversation: “Are you a salesperson? [pause] Well, are you KIND of a salesperson? Then my mommy doesn’t want to talk to you – but you can talk nice to me because I’m a little kid… Hello? Hello?”

Just after W’s 5th birthday, when my sister visited with her daughters, W’s younger cousins:

You were playing Candyland with [cousin] and Grandma, and you were not winning. Stricken, you wandered out of the room wailing, “Is this how my life is going to be? Will I never smile again?”

Age 5 1/2:

Today you listened to an Alanis Morissette song on the radio and you said, “She sings with might and courage.”

Age 6:

I taught 3rd & 4th grade [Sunday school] last semester, and you and I always talked about our respective classes as we drove home from church. One day I told you my class had talked about Buddhism and the importance of living in the moment and not losing the present to worry about the future. Later (another day, I think) we were listening to your N Sync CD and a song called “Space Cowboy” came on, with the words “We don’t need all these prophecies / tellin’ us what’s a sign / ’cause paranoia ain’t the way to live your life from day to day / So leave your doubt and your fears behind…”  After listening carefully, out of the blue you said, “I think N Sync are Buddhists.”

Age 9 1/2:

Said by a giggling W after I “nagged” him to clean up a mess he had made: “You’re a meany – a big meany! You’re so full of meanness you’re – no offense – BULGING!”

Age 10:

Bellowed by you a couple of months ago as you charged backwards across the room at me: “Buttocks … of unspeakable EEEEVil!”

Every time I read from this book I see that little boy again, shaggy hair in his big brown eyes, huge grin, ready to take on the world. Writing a new silly story in the jungle book this week allowed me to see that that wacky child is not gone. He’s still in there and still delightful.   ❤

 

 

 

the path ahead

This past summer with W was wonderful. We hung around town most of the time but made a couple of trips to Asheville NC and to Washington DC.  One trip was to visit cousins I hadn’t seen in 25 years … a side of the family W had never met at all.  He fit right in with them and it truly did feel like a warm family gathering instead of a meeting with near-strangers. What a lovely fun smart humorous bunch of people. ❤

W spent the last 2-3 weeks of summer with his dad before going back to campus.  Suddenly my house was too quiet again. Suddenly I was talking to the cats about things that probably don’t interest cats at all, such as what household supplies I need from the grocery, and how @#$&ing stupid and obscenely wasteful the tenure application process is here. I’m pretty sure that these talks did increase the cats’ vocabulary, and I’m just as certain that they will not be able to show off those new words in polite company.

After a week or so back at campus, W called and stated, “I have decided that I am not busy enough.” I’m thinking, You take a full course load, work all the hours you’re allowed at your work/study job, are an orientation leader for new freshmen, are in student government, and host prospective freshmen several times a year. Plus you have 50,000 events you attend and people you hang out with. How could you not be ‘busy enough’?  After I stopped laughing, W said that he was going to become a tour guide for families visiting campus and he was going to try out for an a capella group and … a couple of other things I can’t remember.  Sure enough, he went through the tour guide training and a capella tryout, in addition to setting up meetings to talk with the internship office about summer opportunities  and the study abroad office about the trip he hopes to take next school year.  He was not accepted into the a capella group, but that turned out to be a good thing because he had discovered that he had more affinity for the campus players improv-like theatre troupe and joined them instead.  One of the troupe leaders sent out a message asking members how they identify and what roles they would be willing to play. One of W’s friends responded, “I am a banana.”  W’s response was, “I identify as a man, but I am willing to play anything including an amorphous asexual blob, should that need arise.”  Another of W’s friends wrote, “Please don’t make me a Nazi again.”      Obviously, this is the perfect group for W.

In that phone call I told W I felt as if he were expanding before my very eyes, still using the familiar tools and abilities I’d always known he had while also pulling out new and unique and unexpected tools from heretofore hidden compartments. I told him it was a pretty neat thing to see.

Later I examined my own life and found it wanting. Do I have hidden tools? Are they rusting away in there? Once the madhouse rush of W’s leaving and my tenure application process and the semester start was past, life settled back into a pretty empty-seeming pattern. Classes are going well … and that’s pretty much all I do now. I did try out a new church a couple of weeks ago – it’s tiny and meets twice a month in a youth center in the hills – and the people were very nice but for the most part way older than me and retired. I have friends I go out with occasionally. I have stacked my language books on the floor in my room so that I can begin to recover my Spanish and German skills. Occasionally I eye the saxophone case in the corner; the other day I went so far as to imagine assembling the instrument and bellowing out a few dreadful scales. I am sure that I can become the next Clarence Clemons if I try, despite that one time when a little neighbor boy (who had the misfortune to walk by my house with his daddy when I was practicing) shrieked ‘Daddy, what IS it?!’   

I have discovered that I am easily overwhelmed. To get around that, I think I must make things  very easy for myself, perhaps by breaking each big action down into a million ridiculously easy steps and then doing one of them at a time. Getting those language books out was a step. So was thinking seriously about the saxophone.  I need to poke around inside my battered old case of a self … to fish around to see what tools are still in working order. Impossibly tiny tweezers?  Filet knife?  Corkscrew?  Maybe they’re all in there just waiting to be used.  Next step: Choosing one of those language books and clearing workspace for it on my desk.

SeussianHair     I get to see my sweetie soon! He has just finished his freshman year and is probably in the passenger seat of a pickup truck bound for his dad’s house right now, trailing the stuffings of his dorm room behind him.

By all accounts he has had a wonderful year at THE perfect college for him. His professors have made him work and laugh and fume and think, his work/study job has taught him tele-marketable skills, and he has made friends he will keep for life. After visiting him on campus one weekend, my 17-year old niece reported that W knows everyone and that he occasionally, upon seeing someone on campus before they see him, will hide behind a tree or building, call them on their cell phones, and say in his special-creepy demon voice, “I see you…”   They respond by laughing and saying, “Oh, W…!” as if it is an everyday occurrence to receive a telephone call from an unseen creepy-stalker demon.

Some branches of my family would not find this funny or amusing at all; to them demons are very real, extremely malevolent, and omnipresent. There is no joking about demons in a world over-populated by demons.  Once, at a reunion of sorts, I learned that I had been eating eggs seasoned with exorcised salt every morning for breakfast, on account of the cook’s strong belief that demons had been singling out her family for special horrid treatment.  Upon hearing this I was speechless. I wasn’t sure whether I was being given the salt out of love and a desire to protect  or whether I myself was suspected of harboring demons.  It was probably a bit of both (I just want to go on the record here and say that I did not hiss, yowl, melt, curse, or have any head-spinning pea soupy reaction at all to said exorcised salt. In fact, I found the eggs yummy.).

That’s not to say I don’t have any demons, and this first year of W’s college adventure has certainly resurrected them for me. Sometimes I hear someone else’s voice echoing around in my head and it ain’t pretty. It is a voice from my past that has, at different times of my life, taken up residence with no invitation and no welcome, completely comfortable in its entitlement to my skull and private thoughts. This voice likes to bludgeon me into submission, drain every drop of blood and every ounce of good feeling from my heart and my veins.  An internal Dementor, I guess. It lives to make sure I know just how awful I am – worse than worthless, really, because at least worthless does no harm. What I am is vile, poisonous, contemptible, utterly unloveable and grotesquely flawed in every measurable way, a walking burden on the earth and all its occupants. I’m not sure why the voice has been around more than usual this year, but I suspect it moved in to take up the space that used to be filled by my daily interactions with W. It’s not an actual voice from my actual past  but it contains all my child-time interpretations of people’s reactions to me, and all the feelings that came from those – the observations that I used to build my sense of myself.

As you can imagine, I don’t LIKE my new roommate. In fact, I am mostly sick to death of her and desperate to evict her – as forcefully as possible – forever. Don’t know if that’s possible, but I have developed a way to keep Demonella at bay.  It involves inviting even more characters to take up residence in my head. I invented these others and I call them the protector women. They are a little younger and harder than I but fiercely loyal. They are armed with bats and are very skilled at wielding them. They lounge around being funny and sardonic until Demonella pokes her head around the door frame to say something snide; then the protector women turn to me, eyebrows raised, and ask hopefully, “You want we should shut her up?”  The protector women have a kind of working class New York accent; I don’t know where they get that but I like it.

So, demons everywhere, some good, some bad, some being dealt with. It’s okay, because Sunday is Mother’s Day and I get to bring my boy home.

ChristmasLeaves“You shoulda named me Joyful Noise,”  said W a few days ago before he went back to campus. I couldn’t answer, laughing as I was at his singing, dancing, stomping, and clapping, or whatever it was he was doing that was so dang loud.

My semester ended a week before his. W’s dad B and I had worked out that B would get W to his house after W’s finals week  and would keep him there until Christmas day. Then I would bring W back home with me.

I had decided that I needed to see family, starting with sis P 1200 miles away. After my students turned in their final papers and exams, I hit the road, driving 4-500 miles per day, stopping in a hotel and grading for several hours, then sleeping before getting up and repeating the process.  I coasted in to P’s driveway on a cloud of frigid snowflakes on the 3rd day.

Her youngest daughter, a true sweet earth child, was out by the road celebrating the snow when I got there. The house was lit up, pointy windows glowing. The building was old and had been a church, a bordello, a different church, and then a family home for 30 years before sis and her husband bought it. It perches at the feet of mountains and gets semi-regular visits from bears seeking P’s wild-growing concord grapes  and from cougars seeking the family’s smaller pets.

The three girls had grown so much since 2005! The oldest is now a little taller than me, confident, funny, capable and beautiful. Middle niece is quieter with a simple ballet dancer elegance and a wicked dry sense of humor. Youngest niece is always moving, always sharing, and always smiling. Sis P’s house is comfy and welcoming like a favorite pair of shoes. Sliding in on a cold snowy night it seemed the perfect place to go for holiday warmth. P and her husband are the ideal hosts for me, making me feel welcome and comfortable and not like a visitor at all.

We had four lovely days together filled with fun excursions, good food, and a lot of laughter. We celebrated Christmas together before the real day and it was lovely. Then I headed east and, after driving all day, arrived at big sis (P2)’s house. She hadn’t known I was coming and held me so tight we both just stood and cried for a few minutes, swaying and hugging. Big sis had had a really tough year and her youngest child was to marry in a few days. I met her fiance for the first time. Turns out he had been offered a job up near W’s college and they would be moving up there in mid-January. Big sis and I sat and talked for hours in her big pretty old farm house around which a city had grown, and two of her other children came over to join us, bringing spouses and beautiful sweet children I hadn’t yet met. That too was lovely and warm and perfect for Christmas.

The next day (Christmas Eve) I drove to the house of my brother and sis-in-law  who live only a few miles from W’s dad. They welcomed me into yet another warm fragrant house and we too talked for hours, exchanging funny stories and catching up on each other’s lives. We had a very laid back Christmas morning. It was quieter than most of ours because their son and his wife and their new baby had gone to visit the baby’s other grandparents. The weather report promised a snow storm. I called W’s dad (who has a second job clearing parking lots of snow) and arranged to get W a few hours earlier than planned so that we could head home well ahead of the storm.

Even before I had W snugly beside me in the warm car driving the few hundred miles home, this felt like the best Christmas in a long time. I hadn’t cleaned the house before leaving and hadn’t set up any holiday decorations. Didn’t have a single gift for him except one Terry’s milk chocolate orange I had happened to see in the grocery. Instead of setting a day to celebrate Christmas with wrapped presents and favorite family foods, we went out to eat and had an after-Christmas shopping trip.

W had a nice long break – just went back yesterday – and we spent it going all our favorite places, doing our favorite things, seeing our favorite people, and talking about all our separate adventures. He snuggled and sweet-talked his furry sisters, hugged me a lot, and told great stories. He shared his thoughts on his classes and his work/study job and the books that he’s reading. We rented movies and caught up on our favorite tv shows. There was a lot of Joyful Noise.  It was wonderful.

I have been worrying (not a lot but some) that W will be bored out of his skull when he comes home for winter break. He will be trading days full of interesting classes with heavy workloads, several-hour shifts at his job in the school’s Annual Fund office, evenings and weekends with a wacky and varied group of friends, and his new addiction to foosball    for a quiet sunny house, his mother, and two adoring cats.

Yesterday we were email chatting and he confessed to feeling ‘world weary.’   He was tired and overloaded, his cough was back, and he had called in sick to work and to the teacher of his one Thursday class. I wrote, “If you were home I would make you a nest on the couch and bring you blankets, hot soup, and kitties.”

He replied, “I know you would. I am jealous of my old life.  I was a lucky bastard.”

I knew it was a comment born of his tiredness and his need of pampering. I knew it didn’t reflect any real desire to be anywhere else pursuing any other path than the one he has chosen. I felt sad that he was unwell and exhausted …. and I felt good that, however fleetingly, he was thinking of his ealier life with me as ‘the good old days.’

Earlier this week in an email conversation with D, a friend from my youth  who is recovering from a heart attack, he was telling me of the difficulty of adjusting his life, his diet, his very personality to a new way of being. He lamented this ‘rusting’ of our bodies that brings unwelcome new rules and limitations as we age.

The old days seem so effortless, looking back from this distance. In our teenage years, D and I and a big bunch of friends used to gather in the parking lot of our employer after closing the place for the night. We brought Frisbees, blasted music from our car stereos, and tried to see who could throw the farthest, who could most spectacularly chase down a far-flung disc, and who could do the fanciest most complex catch of a close throw. We ran at full speed, never thinking of injury.  We leapt and twisted and stretched and threw, and our bodies uncomplainingly did whatever we asked and didn’t punish us later. Those were definitely good old days. Of course for me and my friends, they were also sometimes the bad old days. Parents fought and sometimes divorced, heartbreak lurked around every corner, and teen angst became intense self-loathing. Some of us self-medicated to dangerous degrees. A few didn’t survive to adulthood.

This morning I read the blog of another friend. In it he expressed a hope/wish/prayer that next election season would be kinder, less full of rancor and the snarky words of people believing they know more than others. I agree with him wholeheartedly … and yet I am one of the people he was talking about.  I DO often believe that I know more than people who express opinions which differ significantly from mine. I responded to my friend’s blog with a musing question: Was life better before I became interested in politics? A lot of relationships were easier for me then, but were those better days?  And was I doing my share of citizenship work, back when I didn’t know anything about the issues?

I don’t know the answers to those questions and I don’t know if I ever will or if that matters. I don’t know if the politics-less years were better than these more recent political ones for me. Life is different now. Things have changed. I have changed. My friend D and his world have changed; now his wife and daughter watch him anxiously to assure themselves that he is really okay. W’s world has changed; he has many more obligations and opportunities and choices and people clamoring for his attention. My world has changed; ‘home’ has become quieter and cooler and rattlier and the rest of life looms outside, pressing in more obviously and insistently than before. Old things rust and we have to decide whether to try to sand and oil them in an attempt to make them new again, to replace them with new things, or just to let them go.

Today I’m thinking that to ask which times were better or worse  is to miss the point. There are good things and bad things at every step in our lives. Some of the bad things we have to deal with; to try to ignore them would be irresponsible or foolhardy. My new goal will have to be to not lose sight of good things past and present. I know good people, I have a warm house equipped with 2 furry critters who love to crawl onto my lap and nap, purring. I have a job I love and a son whose company I cherish. I have books and music and interesting things to do.  I too am a lucky bastard. Always have been, probably always will be. No matter what happens.

Did you ever find  after a tense or scary event  that you had been clenching your hands into tight little fist balls?  And then when you tried to unclench it really hurt?

I think I need to unclench  and it ain’t gonna be pretty.  This past week I realized just how constricted my life has become … how small my world is. It first struck me as I was talking to someone about finally getting my passport renewed. It struck harder later, as I was explaining to someone else that my unwillingness to fly is no longer all about fear of flight, it’s also about fear of FWF – flying while fat. In my mind I see myself going to the airport, already scared about leaving terra firma and desperately needing some kind of medication to quiet THAT, and then having the airline clerk(s) treat me as less than a full person, and yet somehow more than a full person, necessitating the purchase of a second ticket for the other half of my fat self. That would be humiliating and awful enough. Even worse, the scene always ends with me being dragged away screaming and cursing by TSA officials  to spend the rest of my life in a dank anonymous cell somewhere, never able to use my new passport which wouldn’t be possible anyway on account of me being on a universal no-fly list.

Sorry. Got carried away with my neuroses. Perhaps I also need medication when NOT trying to fly.

If anyone had asked me when W was a tiny ball of a baby  if I had a bucket list of things I really wanted to do with him before he grew up, one item I would have listed is ‘Explore Europe with him,’ showing him all the places he has read about in the history books he so loves.  He’s gone now and we’ve never done that. His first view of the Eiffel Tower and the Waterloo battlefield and the Acropolis will probably be with someone else.  We’ve never flown anywhere together.

We HAVE driven all over much of the US from Utah to South Carolina and Boston to Florida. Also to Canada twice. When childless I drove everywhere by myself without a worry. Then I was blessed with my little bundle of boy and from that point on  my major goal was to keep him alive and safe and screw him up as little as possible. Suddenly driving seemed much more dangerous, as the possibility of wrecks and car-malfunction strandings loomed menacingly over us. I drove anyway but the carefree fun was gone. Still, I’d buckle my little guy into his child safety seat in the center of the backseat and surround him with all the necessities (snacks, drinks, book bag, toy bag, blankie, pillow, sweatshirt, kiddie road maps, kiddie shades), turn on music or recorded stories, and off we’d go. W told me years later that he sometimes cracked open the back window just enough to toss out one of his tiny plastic toy soldiers without me noticing. Their mission was to scout and report back to him.

Those trips were pretty wonderful: a dinosaur tour through Utah and Colorado with my sis and her daughters, a drive to marshy Point Pelee (on Lake Erie in Ontario) with my mom, and conference trips to St. Louis, San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and Montreal. In the cities we would use our hotel as the starting point and each evening choose a different direction to walk, exploring and eventually having dinner before heading back to our room.

W is a wonderful travel companion. He’s a good navigator, funny,  helpful, interested in exploring, and not picky about food. He loves meeting people and talking to them and he likes learning new things and discussing it all later. I’m a little jealous of his future travel companions as they are in for a treat. He has unfolded beautifully over his 18 years, unfurling from a little ball of life wrapped tightly in a favorite blankie to a young man whose height stretches beyond mine and whose horizons are limitless. His world is opening wide and, unlike his mama, he seems not to find that painful at all.

I think I’ve let myself get old and my world get small  way too soon. Have passport, will unclench. Don’t mind the noise, please; that will just be me shrieking in (temporary) pain.  It’ll be better when I get to Europe…. and certainly quieter for you.