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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

What Are We Waiting For?

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2002

She had a smile that entered the room long before she did and a heart that knew no limits. My husband’s aunt, who, by the time I became a member of the family, lived hundreds of miles away, was always someone I knew of. Declining health prevented her from meeting our youngest son, her one visit with our older two a mere few hours.

I had only spent a short time in her physical company, but the idea of Irene has always been profound; and her passing last week has left a palpable void and reminded me of something I thought I already knew.

If I had to guess, I don’t think Irene understood the impact she had on me. And that wouldn’t be her fault. It would be mine. Because I never told her. I never picked up the phone and called her, never wrote her a letter. I sent photos of the children, always made sure I sent a Christmas card; but beyond that I was remiss.

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2007

I never told her how beautiful I thought she was, how incredibly brave, how the story of her life is the stuff of fiction. She lived many lifetimes in the one she was given, weathered losses that would have easily felled others. I never made an effort to be sure she knew her great-nephews despite geographical hurdles.

And just as resplendent flowers tend to arrive more prolifically after a person has died, the ardent words that would better have been spoken and written in life, suddenly appear with a vengeance: Obituaries overflow with positivity, letters of condolence seep with evocative praise. And the person who has left departed none the wiser.

So I’m left today wondering why: Why I did not stop the wheels of progress regularly to tell Irene what I thought–that she was kind and beautiful and brave? Why I let days turn to weeks and months, years and decades without a word, now having to join the legions who are compelled to relegate praise to sentences written in the past tense?

Why did I wait until today to tell the world about Irene? Why did I not do better when I clearly knew better?

Why do any of us?

 

 

 

Preparing for Battle

Mexican PhotoWell, August, it’s Thursday, 5 February 2015, and yesterday this little nugget of highbrow humor was meandering about the internet—on social media and the like. It might be an old picture. I can’t be sure. But yesterday was the first day I saw it.

You’re all of five years old. You don’t yet know how to read, and certainly you have no reason to see this photo. You’re too busy mastering your sight words, building with LEGO, and trying to negotiate a later bedtime. This is honestly the last thing you need.

But you are curious, incredibly astute, and all too soon you will see these sorts of things. And as a person of Mexican ancestry, how you will respond will be a decision you will need to make.

I am not of Mexican ancestry, but I can tell you that as your mother I am tired. I’m tired of seeing this sort of thing. I’m tired of the fact that people still produce this, that people still share it and laugh at it. I’m tired of being told it’s just a joke, that I need to learn how to take a joke. I’m tired of being told that humor and offense are inextricably linked. IMG_2330

And I’m angry, too. About all of the above, yes, but also because of the compulsion I feel to call this sort of thing out every single time I see it. I’m angry that I feel defensive and continually bound to state the obvious—that disparaging another human being’s ethnicity is ignorant, laughing at it is short-sighted if not cruel. At the very least it’s completely unnecessary.

But despite my exhaustion, my discontent, and my anger, I won’t stop. It’s not in me, and the motivation I have is the most powerful of all—the love I feel for you, the respect I have for you, what I hope to impart to you.

My words, my vitriol, my discontent—none of these have changed the world or stopped the flow of the tasteless, insensitive, or unkind. My efforts have not been successful in shielding you.

It is my hope, though, that they will fortify you so that when it’s your turn to fight, you will be ready.

 

More to Him, More to All

IMG_8453Three years ago today he had a seizure. It was, as they say, a doozy. We held our breath, watched his very small body betray him for how many times I cannot and am not inclined to count, and held him tight as he endured the aftermath.

We didn’t know then it was going to be the last—at least for the next three years—that that seizure would mark the beginning of a hiatus that would give our son the opportunity to make up for the proverbial lost time, would allow him to make the strides that had necessarily eluded him while epilepsy exerted its control over every facet of his being.

Three years later our son’s face no longer bears the evidence of his trials. To meet him today you would never know that while other Kindergarteners and first-graders spent their afternoons happily playing, he was sound asleep in his school clothes, the soporific effects of medication more than his small body could bear. You would never know of the afternoons he was simply too weak to walk home from the playground or through the aquarium and had to ride in his toddler brother’s stroller. You would never know how his hair fell out or how sunken and sad his eyes once were.

He is a marvel to me—in many more ways than I can ever articulate—but more than that he is a reminder that we can never presume to know anything about anyone based on the smiles they wear, the energy they exude. What is behind those smiles and under that energy is where the stories live.

Our son’s is a tale of resilience, yes. But it is also a tale of the danger of judging or assessing others based solely on appearances. There is more to him than anyone who doesn’t know him could ever know. There is more to all of us than anyone who doesn’t know us could ever know. Our son is not simply a silly nine-year-old boy who laughs too loudly at equally silly jokes, who makes messes sometimes faster than he (or we) can clean them, or knows just the right way to get under his brothers’ skin.

He is also not simply the avid reader, the eager learner, the boy with the heart of gold.

He is a child who already knows pain, who remembers what epilepsy was and is. He understands not being able to count on his body, and he understands fear.

He is simultaneously similar to and completely different from everyone else.

Just like everyone else.

 

 

Just Like Her

He was angry at me and said I was exactly like my mother.

The charger for his device was not doing its work fast enough.  I endeavored to help him by swapping it out for a different one.  He was less than impressed with my efforts and lapsed into a temper tantrum occasionally characteristic of many a disgruntled five-year-old.  I told him not to yell or I would take away said device.  He then hurled his response with all the vitriol he could muster:  “You’re just like your mean mother!”

I stopped in my tracks, was rendered speechless.

My children have heard the tales, have asked for them in fact.  My childhood and all its mystery has taken on near-mythical status in their eyes. I have, of course, responsibly edited the more unsavory details of my rearing; but they have heard enough to know that there were good reasons they were never able to meet my mother, were never permitted to spend time with her before she died.

They have concluded she was “mean”—the word taking on its broadest significance when referring to her.

167008_1680165118238_649770_nBecoming a mother necessarily forced me to confront my feelings about mine; and it became painfully and pitifully obvious that in terms of role models, my first and most significant was presented in mirror-image: I eventually discerned that if I simply did the opposite of what she did—at every turn, at every moment, I would then naturally become her opposite. Her behavior and choices rendered her cruel; mine would ensure I was good, profoundly decent. It seemed a simple strategy.  I never aspired to be perfect—not in motherhood, not in anything.  But her opposite?  I could and surely should aspire to that.

Then, when I least expect it, my son—the five-year-old boy who still fits dreamily and snugly on my lap and informs me—eyes sparkling, heart radiating–I’m “the most beautiful mother [he] ever saw”—tells me in a fit of frustration and anger that I’m her.

You’re just like your mean mother.

I get it.  I truly do.  He’s five.  He was unhappy with me.  And instead of saying, as plenty of children have before him, that he hates me or that I’m the worst mother ever, he says I’m just like her.

And while his aim was to hurt me, to retaliate for his perceived affront, he will never be able to fathom the magnitude of his words because he does not comprehend the sum total of who she was—and was not.

The version he has of her has been heavily edited, and that is how it should be.  All he knows is she was mean—very mean; and since he thought I was being mean, it’s the retribution that made the most sense, was the most convenient and accessible epithet he could grab in that moment.

And despite the power of my very conscious, very logical self who knows who I am and who I am not, my head could do nothing but spin, could do nothing but contemplate that what-ifs born of six words .

Then I thought about what she would have done had a similar scenario transpired when I was five.  And while I’ll stop short of painting that sad picture, I can say she would not have issued a natural consequence.  There would have been no thought.

She would have reacted.  She would have been mean.

So, I know I’m not her.

That my son is wrong.

But his words are not without resonance, not without power.

They sting—no less than the realization that the five-year-old I love most in the world, my child, has the power to fell me with a single sentence.

 

 

 

 

Filter Installed

Christmas Photo Black and WhiteWhen they were little, writing about them was easy. Parenting was new. Every experience, victory, and setback a novelty and ostensibly worthy of documentation. As a new mother and one who has always processed complex emotions by writing about them, this blog was born out of necessity.

Plus, they couldn’t read. Their friends couldn’t read. The only people who knew their stories were over five feet tall and had the judgment that customarily comes with it.

But now . . . well, two out of three and the company they keep can read and read well. One is on the verge. They each know I write and write about them. And I would be lying if I said that though this blog started essentially, dare I say magnanimously, as an online baby book of sorts, I never expected it to go someplace else, to garner attention beyond my immediate circle. It’s the wish of all writers . . . that their mere words resonate with others. It’s what fuels them and compels them to click the “publish” button.

My sons will be eleven, ten, and six this year. And the experiences, victories, and setbacks are no less frequent. In fact, arguably, they’re more interesting than ever. They engage with one another in ways that regularly and alternately impress and confound me. In terms of pure “material,” there is no dearth.

And the wish to write is no less palpable. The longing to tell the story of what happened last Saturday or even this morning insistent.

Yet I won’t. I can’t. A filter has found a spot on the tips of my fingers—one that keeps me from writing anything that may compromise or embarrass them today or, as much as I can predict, tomorrow. A filter that will allow some stories to come through, but not all of them.

My children have been my muses. I have trusted their voices.

May they always be able to trust mine.