An Invitation to Sit

I will often advise students when writing a narrative or a reflective piece to start in the middle of the story. There is a certain power to cutting right to the point.

So, here goes.

“Ho.”

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Two letters and what I would loosely call a word hurled toward me on a beautiful summer afternoon in a playground in the city I call my home. With my family and a family friend. While I was playing frisbee.

By a group of middle-school boys.

Ho.

I have spent enough years on the planet to have had the opportunity to be called many things. Having survived middle school myself, the range of insults runs the predictable gamut.

But “ho” is new.

And having to explain this to my children even newer.

But it is my reaction to the word that required the most careful deconstruction.

I have taught my children to walk away from bullies, to disempower them by ignoring them.

But I am not a child. I am rather a grown-up. And a mother. And a teacher. And this group of boys was not unlike any other group of individuals who in a group is compelled to mask their insecurities and frustrations and pain, collective and individual, by lashing out at others.

I could have lashed back. I could have walked away. But instead I walked toward them. Sat at their table. Told them who I was and most decidedly who I was not.

They were disarmed and thus desperately continued their diatribe with all they had, descending into vulgarities that belied their young years.

But I did not move.

And neither did they save for one young man who initially went to another table but then promptly came back.

I spoke to them . . . gently. And I continued to hold them accountable for every word they said.

I refused to move.

And my family watched.

And my sons had questions later. A lot of questions.

Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you just walk away? What was accomplished by sitting with them? Why do you care?

Because they are children.

Not mine but still mine.

Because one day these children will become men.

And because sitting at the same table, literally, is the only way anything will ever change.

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House to Home

We buried St. Joseph right in the front as we were supposed to.

We scoured Walmart for sage and burned it in the four corners of the house.

We have cleaned, decluttered, decluttered again, and lowered the price . . . twice.

And still our house hasn’t sold.

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It needs cosmetic touches, to that I can attest.  And for some who may desire a more contemporary open floor plan, the 1900 Victorian cottage rooms I find cozy may translate to an expense if not the proverbial can of worms that comes with knocking down a wall or two.

The kitchen still features what I can only assume are sixty-plus-year-old cabinets and cannot boast the most up-to-date layouts photographed in multi-page spreads in cooking magazines.  And yet if you ask around, you might find that some delicious meals have come out of that kitchen.

The bathrooms have fully functioning sinks, toilets, and showers, as my family’s relative cleanliness on most days can testify, though there is nothing particularly luxurious or high-end anywhere in sight.

There is no driveway, no garage.  But in twenty years, I have never not been able to park in front of the house.  With just eight houses on this dead-end street tucked off the beaten path of one of Newport’s most historic, most beautiful neighborhoods, the only people who ever find us have to be looking for us, and sometimes even then, only if they’re lucky.

Why it has not sold remains a mystery to me.  The part of me that believes in fate sometimes thinks that perhaps where we are going next isn’t quite yet ready for us.  The mystical part of me believes that maybe the house isn’t entirely ready to let us go.

Whatever it is, like everything else that has perplexed me, challenged me, caused me angst, I believe eventually the answers will reveal themselves, that this waiting, this limbo will one day make sense.

A good friend of mine told me recently to simply relax and enjoy the summer here–that people pay exorbitant rents to summer in this very neighborhood, walking distance to downtown Newport but still quiet, just three blocks from the water and the most stunning sunsets, perpetually bathed in the smell of salt water and fresh air.

But our family does not need a house, ideally located as this one may be.

We need a home.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again . . . and Again

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The way she looked at him took my breath away and sent me rooting for my camera.

The way she talked to him reminded me I probably shouldn’t be eavesdropping.

But there she was, an embodiment of a 17th-century woman from Massachusetts serenely tending her garden.  And there he was, an exuberant 11-year-old boy I occasionally feel was born far too late.

She spoke to him of her vegetables, the progress of her radishes, and how she was looking forward to the harvest so she could “slice them thinly and place them on buttered toast.”

He listened, soaking in her words, completely present in her moment and in this time.  He replied, “That sounds absolutely delicious.”

And he meant it.  To him, from her, though he had no prior experience with radishes on or off buttered toast, she spoke a truth that was alternately familiar and intoxicating.

Whether she broke character at that moment of connection and became a person who found him simply a sweet little boy out for the day with his family at Plimoth Plantation or remained a character out of place and from another time who found in my son a kindred soul, I do not know.

What I do know is that the softness of her eyes, the gentleness of her posture, the mystique of her words elicited from him what I know to be the best in him.

And every time someone can see what I see in this beautiful boy,  no matter in what century they may happen to reside, I can exhale.  A little bit more. And intentionally.

Climbing

A few days ago I woke up and knew it was time.

Time to put fingers to keyboard and start to write, start to move through this phase of my journey in the same way I have negotiated so many other moments.

Nadine Gordimer famously remarked that “writing is making sense of life.”

So, tonight I begin to make sense of this life of mine and write about divorce.

Divorce is all around us, if the statistics are to be believed, and it is and was certainly all around me.  My grandmother, mother, family members, friends, colleagues.  But as much as one human being can appreciate and empathize with another’s experience, it is not until you are in the throes of it yourself that you begin to truly understand.

Six months into the process, I most certainly cannot proclaim to be an expert nor do I yet have words of wisdom to impart.

What I do have is six months of learning and, fortunately, now, just as much hope.

17972018_10210696807670594_2708914811719925191_oThree weeks ago today, for the first time, I climbed a mountain–a small mountain, but a mountain nonetheless.  The boundless metaphors I encountered on that journey paled in comparison to that moment in the car, driving forward and back to my family, when I realized I had done something I never before thought possible and that there actually and still resides within me a strength sufficient to keep climbing and now to start writing.

For them, of course

But also for me.

 

 

 

 

A Twelve-Year-Old’s Response

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My twelve-year-old has recently become a master of the monologue.  Any subject can get him going—preteen angst, the perils of middle school, having to take out the trash, the fact that it’s Thursday.  Occasionally bringing me to tearful laughter, his curmudgeonly tirades are almost unfailingly accurate. 

So, his take on the election, I knew, would be especially edifying.

He listens but also puts all he garners through his own well-honed critical filter.  He sees and therefore thinks and communicates clearly, and conversing with him on subjects that step outside the realm of the occasionally coarse purview of twelve-year-old boy gives me hope. 

He was disgusted and sad and angry on Wednesday morning.

But what he was and is not is confused when he says the rancor of this election season and its attendant results prove how very far we still have to go—as a nation, as people. 

A twelve-year-old who sees clearly.

And a mother whose hope has been renewed. 

To My Graduate

10Today, for many people, will feel like a finish line.  High School.  Done.  I made it I did it.  Another hurdle surmounted.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you what I have learned about so-called finish lines.  They don’t exist.  This you may already know.  You know so much.  But just in case you don’t, it’s true.  There is no such thing.  Because once you pass through what the rest of the world would term a “finish line,” you are immediately onto your next race.  And that, I’m afraid, is how many people see this journey we’re all on.  Getting from Point A to Point B.  Rushing to get there, often, and forgetting that nothing—no destination, no accolade, no piece of paper–is worth more than the journey.  And nothing on the journey is worth more than the love you give and the love you are brave enough to receive.  You have achieved a milestone today, not unlike many you have already achieved, and for that I am incredibly proud of you.  I hope today you can feel pride, too, for your accomplishments, yes, but also for everything you have done to make this a reality.  This is not something everyone can or will do.  But you did.  Draw strength from that fact.  That you could do it and chose to.  You are ready to do such incredible work in the world, to be an inspiration without even trying.  Continue this journey of yours, crafting it to be precisely what you want it to be.  Embrace who you are, and know you are worthy and capable of great love.  Congratulations and all my love forever.

Once Bitten

After torrential rains and an all-around meteorological dreary day, to see this dog sashaying down the street was a spot of sun.  He was tan and tiny and fierce and moved, despite his leash, as though he owned the sidewalk.  He was also carrying a tiny stuffed reindeer in his mouth.  Probably Rudolph.  No doubt his favorite toy.

And as this dog and his owner passed, I naturally smiled.  Anyone would have.  The woman walking him smiled back.  She then said, admonishingly, “He’s cute, but he has psychological problems.”  I clearly had the look of one who was unfazed and intended to pet her dog, “psychological problems” notwithstanding; so, to be clear, she added I should probably not pet him lest he bite.

And as they continued walking along, her and her dog’s backs now to me, she added, “I adopted him.  So, you can’t blame me for his problems.”

Heavy sigh.

And where to begin . . .

Well, first off, it probably goes without saying that no bite that tiny dog could have inflicted would have stung more than that seemingly unwitting, seemingly harmless remark.

In our language, we use the word “adopt” to describe “highways,” “spots,” “attitudes,” animals, and, of course, people.  And while I have always leaned toward wishing for more synonyms so the word “adopt” could be reserved for people, I understand its linguistic flexibility.  That being said, it’s the fact that this woman, in a mere moment and eleven words, cut to the core of a problem much more prevalent and insidious than mere semantics.

Before I continue on, I know she didn’t mean it, didn’t mean anything by it.  Most people don’t and never do.  And maybe that is a significant part of the problem.  That people don’t realize it.  But in her remark she effectively linked adoption and “psychological problems,” said that those who are adopted come with said problems, problems for which someone else is to “blame,” and that despite an adoption, the psychological problems linger and that the best one can do is muddle through.

In eleven words.

And therein is the trouble. 

As the mother of a family formed by adoption, it pains me that my children are going to hear the word tossed about in this manner, the word our language has to describe the process by which our family was formed, hurled blithely and without regard, a word that is and will be at times participially attached to them. 

The woman I encountered today didn’t know me, didn’t know my beautiful sons, and didn’t realize the extent of the subtext of her remarks. 

She also didn’t share with me something I didn’t already know.  

She just reminded me that some people bite.