March 17, 2017
There were rides in the Cadillac, top down
Beatles loud on the radio.
After intense arguments
With my brother over
Who got to sit behind
There were meandering walks on tree lined streets at the age of 15,
Giddy, stupid, and hungry
For bagels or cookies
To go home.
I should have been home.
I should have worn shoes.
I should have followed everyone
else to college.
There was saying goodbye to my dad
For ten years.
There was speaking to my dad In the dark,
ten years after he died.
There were parties, so many parties.
There was takeout for dinner
On nights we weren’t picking at meals in restaurants
With cloth napkins served by waiters
We’d see later on
at the club.
I didn’t make choices, I I was along for the ride, and in between
I slept like the dead in a
Bedroom cloaked by
Tightly closed, thick velvet
Then, came my son.
I didn’t choose him
Than I chose anything else
In those days.
It took time
For me to make the transition.
For a long time, I was a daughter
Who mourned and drank
And wished she’d said goodbye
And I love you
While my father still knew who I was.
It took too long for me to
Step. The. Fuck. Up.
My dad has been gone
I’m losing my son.
It seems like it was five minutes ago
I recognized I was his mother.
He’s known all along and
While he was waiting
he grew tired
Ways to pass the time
On his way to becoming
I’m here now.
His shoes are in the hall.
His world is private,
Riding shotgun or crouched in the backseat of an uber,
Or inside his dreams.
When I wake him up,
He always sounds surprised by my voice.
He used to cry
As some boys
Laughed at spongebob squarepants.
He doesn’t cry anymore.
I hear pop songs
And I think of my son.
I want to tell him
I wasted a long time
Waiting for a dead man
The rest of my life
Belongs to the living.
When he comes home
I stay as close as I can,
Noting his tone,
Holding my cheek for a kiss,
Watching him as he moves
thru the kitchen and
Smears peanut butter on
I don’t know him at all-
His voice belongs to a stranger.
When did he decide
he liked Pad Thai?
Extra spice, light on shrimp.
Once in a while, I see the smile or the way he holds his fork,
And I know to bring him milk
Or suggest he get some sleep.
It was easier,
In the days of
Gimlets versus Cosmos,
South End versus Brookline,
Backgammon or silly conversation.
But upstairs, right above my head,
There is a boy.
He is angry, sweet, and funny.
He calls me mom
He believes with all his heart
I am an idiot
Who doesn’t understand a thing,
And tortures him by insisting
He put away his clothes.
He puts away his clothes.
I hope I am here
The best of him-
Which is going to be amazing.
My son, by age sixteen,
Has taught me more
Than everything I knew
December 27, 2016
It’s Monday night, the night after Christmas. In case you didn’t see the family photo tagged with our location, we traveled over the holiday. I told the world and myself I wanted us to have a chance to reconnect as a family. Truth is, it was all about spending some time with my boy, my sixteen year old son.These days, he walks out the door more frequently than he walks in. I spend too much time wondering every time I hear a car drive by or a siren shriek.
I’ve finished unpacking, almost finished unpacking, well, I’ve started unpacking and can say that all of my shoes are where they belong.
I’m scrolling thru Facebook, and I see all the happy family photos. My heart swells with pride at the likes under ours taken by a very kind, patient hostess. We are standing in front of a fireplace, arms linked, smiling.
It wasn’t really like that at all.
Well, parts of it were. There was tubing down Cranmore with C, legs linked, tires spinning. I screamed, he laughed.
There was s’mores by the fire after a sleigh ride. My daughter sat next to my son. He went into the lodge and got her hot chocolate.
There were the moments before we had to leave for the sleigh ride, when his dad had to stuff his feet into his brand new boots because he didn’t want to go.
There were arguments over phone chargers, pillows, homework, bad language, and whether or not one should stay in a jacuzzi for an hour at a time.
In other words, it was like being on a vacation with a toddler that has far more words and muscle at his disposal when he wants to take a stand.
On our way home, we stopped by the outlet store. He walked over to me, held out his arms and pulled me close. He said- “I’m glad I came. I had fun.”
He finds joy in a Nike store, and bliss when he knows that moments after we leave he will be swaddled in a new Nike sweatshirt and sweat pants.
I’ve probably crossed the line here, but I’m giving myself a pass this time.
I’ve decided it is time to stop rambling on about the challenges we face.
They are his challenges now, He deserves privacy to be who he’s going to be and figure out what he needs to figure out.
I will take a step back to find my place in the audience while my son goes about becoming a man.
It won’t be easy.
I remember wondering if things would have been different if I’d read him more bed time stories or made him join Boy Scouts.
You reminded me that one less chapter of Harry Potter, or four more camping trips probably wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.
Some of you let me know you are dealing with some of the same problems; and that you are as lost and confused as I am.
Sometimes it’s incredibly easy to feel totally isolated, in a room full of people, in a community of millions, at the dinner table with family.
We are as connected as we allow ourselves to be. We are not alone.
Neither is he.
I hope he figures that out.
There is alcohol. Wine, fancy cocktails with basil floating in them like pine needles, and beer.
There are long, dark wood walks with a dog that follows, lingers, then sprints to a pile of damp leaves. There is the observation of joy, as she thrashes in gold and rusty brown and dirt. When she jumps into the van, my sweet girl smells like she was out all night, and it’s Thursday afternoon.
There is work, swallowing handfuls of chocolate chips from the fridge meant for Sunday pancakes, dinners out at restaurants I can’t afford, where we share appetizers and order just one more.
There is splitting the check even though I ordered just one more, and knowing it’s understood. I needed that.
There is time with friends.
There are phone calls to mom, and not calling mom, because I don’t want her to know details. There is knowing she is there to listen to the details if it comes to that.
There is music from when I was his age, and his own music, the inappropriate language, the grinding bass, the beat. There is time at the gym, lifting metal, finding downward dog in a room full of women who look they don’t have a clue even though probably half of them have been where I am now.
There are impassioned conversations about Trump, the Supreme Court, moving to Canada, the latest from Trump.
There the memes of Obama and Biden.
There is tv and slippers and sleeping pills and falling asleep with the tv on so I don’t have to think about anything but the carefully written dialogue written by writers on another coast that belong to a union and are probably talking about Trump right now.
There is knowing, somewhere, in my head, this is not cancer. It is not Alzheimer’s, or living without heat, or living alone, or being old, and wishing for what will never come again.
When I find myself dealing with another variety of grief, I may or may not turn to the same these things I have found along this journey.
Inside this life of mine, right now, I still find bliss and laughter, even though this heart of mine weighs more than my whole house, weights more than anything I have ever carried.
I have found a way to lift this heart and love this child and move forward into the tomorrow and next month.
Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my knees buckle and I lean knowing I have lost it all. I find myself on the sofa, wishing I had softer socks, or a magazine, or a softer pillow, or it was ten years ago.
Then my daughter asks me to sign her permission slip. A student calls with a question. Sophie sighs in her sleep and I know she is dreaming of bunnies.
So I pull myself up and I take myself down to my bedroom. I find sleep, I do not dream of bunnies, that I know of anyway.
But I wake up next to Sophie and that helps.
My family is home with me tonight. I’m a little bit angry and totally blessed.
Well, mostly blessed.
I hope I dream of bunnies.
November 19, 2016
It’s been a long fall. My son is sixteen years old, a junior in high school and he’s struggling with everything.
School. Football. Each other. His sister and dad. There are also things I’m not going to talk about because what I believe are dangerous choices he sees as decisions that are his to make. I work hard to filter my words, grope for kind gestures like buying the right snacks and not complaining when he leaves a trail of wrappers across the living room. (That is either a kind gesture or the action of a person that is tired and is learning to pick her battles.) When I lean in for a hug, I don’t wince when he pulls away.
I yell at him for leaving his window open, for being unkind to his sister, for playing rap music loud enough to wake up our neighbor who is 87 and deaf in one ear.
It’s the end of the football season. For a few weeks, he was thrown off the team. Tonight was the last game of the season. For the first time, he invited me. He texted me, he called me, he left me a voicemail with details about where the game was and when it started.
I didn’t want to go. It was starting at the tail end of rush hour on a Friday night. I had a dog to walk, a book to read and that middle aged obsession with yoga that seemed to start as soon as his voice started to crack.
But it’s been a long, long time since he’s asked me to go to a game.
I got there really late. It starts getting dark at 5 now, and I arrived at around 630. I found a seat in the front row of the bleachers. I sat alone, the parents were settled in conversation, and this was my first game of the season.
I watched him stand on the edge of the field, number 88. He glanced in my direction once, then he returned his full attention to the players on the field. Our team was up by about 15 points when I got there, and even though there was a lot of cheering and yelling on both sides, the score didn’t move.
My son watched from the sidelines, standing next to all the other kids, watching from the sidelines, while the team went on to win the game.
When it was over, I jumped up to walk to my car. I didn’t feel like small talk. I was the parent of the boy who’d been thrown off the team. I was the parent who hadn’t been to a game all season.
From the field, I heard my son call out “Mom!”
I walked over to him. I wasn’t sure it was actually his voice, he’s never acknowledged me during a game.
“Sorry I got here late. Good game.”
He took off his helmet and shrugged. “They didn’t play me once.”
“I’m sorry, honey.”
“It’s okay, mom. .. I love you”
He sauntered back towards his teammates.
We live in a war zone, sometimes, my son and me. There have been times in the past few months where I’ve wondered if I should send him away somewhere, physically wrestled with him for his phone, threatened to call the police, screamed at each other until we were both hoarse, breathless and red in the face.
Tonight, at the end of a winning game, during which the coach hadn’t let him even go in for a snap, he left the team to walk over and tell me he loved me.
I think that when he noticed me sitting alone on the bleachers, watching him, standing alone on the field, he was worried about me. Everyone else was in pairs or groups.
I didn’t care. I was just there to watch him.I was there so that he’d know I’d go anywhere if he asked me to.
My son showed up to a game even though he knew he wasn’t going to get a chance to touch the football. When they won, he was one of the first kids to rush the field to celebrate.
He showed up. I showed up.
Next year, maybe he’ll play a little and I’ll get there before the fourth quarter.
It’s nice, this feeling that next year might be something to look forward to.
August 21, 2016
I read a poem
written by someone else’s daughter
About her mother, who has Alzheimer’s.
Judy spoke of her mother’s journey,
Of her need
To be let go.
She spoke of clocks, conversations, lunch round noon,
snow bout mid December,
and all the parts of life
that are defined
by knowing what is going on,
what has happened,
and what will likely happen next.
A million pieces of knowledge tether
Most of us,
To know the date most days.
Class is Wednesday night,
Colin plays on Saturday at nine fifteen,
I need to be at work by nine,
Katy’s birthday is coming in two weeks.
I am never sure what time it is, and sometimes
I think Wednesday’s Thursday, or I lose an hour or a week.
I’m not sick like her, or like you were.
When it took over,
your eyes were clouds,
your lips made shapes,
your tongue made sounds.
Your muddy eyes would take me in,
or the wall behind me,
or a angry nurse marchcing down the hall.
Your lips would purse, then open, close,
more like a fish
Than like a man.
You’d smile when I’d offer up
And smoke it
Unlit and upside down.
Your eyes were clouds,
They belonged inside a winter sky, not on a face,
but I never let them go.
Bring you taboo cigarettes,
I would fix your shirt, wipe your chin
and when his mouth moved
I’d lean close.
I’d smell the spit, the sour breath, last week’s
applesauce, the sweat
And I would listen
Because I knew you
Would never leave without saying your goodbye.
You were a gentleman.
I never let my you go,
Not when you’d already left,
Not when you still looked at me
and knew my name,
Not in all those spaces
August 12, 2016
I am a forty five year old woman flat on the floor on my belly on top of a blanket used by someone I don’t know.
I sought out the air conditioner in Colin’s room about 4 am.
I look up at him, I watch the sheets for rise and fall, I listen for his breath.
I wait to see him jump and glare
At the discovery of me, his mom, on the floor, settled in the middle of his floor. I didn’t knock.
The floor is sticky, it smells like beer, new leather, sweaty socks, cheap perfume and axe cologne.
Along his walls are the pictures from his teams last year, taped up on paint, edges curling at the corners. There is a Celtics pennant, a phone number in blue marker on the door.
I don’t think he’s taken a breath. Maybe he knows I’m here, and is only breathing while I peer inside his bookshelf.
I wonder why he has his Latin Book from 7th grade, the bird books my mother gave him three years in a row for Christmas and a picture of his sister, stashed inside a stack of Pokemon. He did a mass cleanup months ago, and I thought everything was gone except for twelve busted chargers, a game remote and some condoms.
I wonder where this pillows been, who this blanket held. The cotton doesn’t smell.
I think I washed them. Maybe he left them out in hopes I’d wander up to cool my skin.
No. He left them there because I told him not too.
Still hasn’t breathed.
Are those crayons?
The air conditioner is louder than thunder, rap music, Sophie in yard, all together, raised up thousand times.
He’s breathing. I just can’t hear it under the sound of my own breath, the a/c, and my tired, noisy, achy heart.
Should I check on him?
My neck is cool,
The hair inside my neck falls down across the pillow case,
my toes are cold and reach to tuck inside the blanket. I turn the pillow over. I roll to face his closet.
The door is closed. Thank God. The door is closed. He sighs, my back is turned and he sighs and, I think, shifts his body.
His body is all legs, elbows, knees, scabs, sneers, sweat, prickly hair on his head, he uses product, I see product right there, by the closet door. That’s expensive stuff. That’s mine.
We wear the same hair product. I think of this while I lay on the floor of my son’s bedroom.
I am cool. I am spent.
I am afraid he’ll trip over me when he wakes.
I’m afraid he’ll trip on me when he wakes and do it on purpose.
My son and I are in a room together. He sleeps. I gaze at artifacts, yawn, stretch, wonder if I should leave now before he wakes.
We are both still. He sleeps, I hope his dreams remind him I wasn’t always the woman that woke every day determined to ruin his life.
I wait for sleep, pull my knees close to my chest, let my eyelids fall, tears fall down, it’s been so long
Since we were still.
August 6, 2016
which is well aware
to which the message
has been sent
Is currently quite busy.)
My son is up to no good- it is 1130 at night, it is cool and his air conditioning is set on high cool, his room reeks of bad choices and burnt sugar candles,
it’s the night before he has to be at camp in the morning as a cit for community service
For other bad choices he made months ago-
There is a strawberry moon in the sky, everyone’s posting about on the pages of Facebook.
Under that strawberry moon, Five minutes from now a woman will let her cat out, that cat will get hit by a car, or gobble a bird. Bad choice, I think, depending on the outcome, the cat may or may not agree.
There is a family sneaking over the border. There is a guard that drank gallons of coffee with dinner and just watched the Republican convention,
His gun is heavy but it might feel light after tonight.
There is a woman that just started to watch Game of Thrones; she has an early morning presentation, she will be so late they’ll start without her.
There is a girl who is slipping out of bed to go downstairs to sleep with the dog. She will wake with a stiff neck, her pajamas will reek of dog drool.
She’ll slip into bed with her mother first thing in the morning.
Her mother will rub her daughter’s neck and they’ll both sleep in for the first time since ever.
(Sleeping in is never a bad choice, in my poem.)
Bad choices are made every night,
Of course, bad is relative,
Night is seven to some,
Mistakes are made in daylight hours, lots of them, millions of them inside every second-
Some of no consequence,
Some with tragic result.
But I’m writing this knowing my baby 16 year old idiot is on the verge of having a party while I sleep, undisturbed, because he doesn’t know me as well as he thinks he does.
It’s his choice to make,
Under this over ripe strawberry moon that has Facebook junkies fluttering outside their screen doors to snap a shot and share.
I’m too tired to share anything, or stop much, except what I can by
I can take notes. I can think about others far away from my corner
of the world and wish them safe travels.
I won’t sleep well.
Tomorrow, I think I will spend my time a bit more concerned about getting a little more exercise, being kinder to my children’s father, and not smoking at lunch.
Tonight, I am distracted by everyone else.
Here it is, the Friday of July 4th weekend. It’s raining. I’m home alone.
My fifteen year old son is at the mall. Instead of being happy he’s not in the woods, all I can think about is that he’s decided to expand his career as a juvenile delinquent to include shoplifting.
My twelve year old daughter is at a friend’s house. She knew I was staying home this evening to take care of some homework, so she made me dinner. Then she spoke with me at the dinner table. I call her my little miracle.
After explaining to me for the fourth time that nothing had happened at camp all day, and that she thinks we should never, ever discuss Donald Trump during a meal, she picked up my take home exam for Writing for Communications. It’s due on Tuesday, July 5th. Yup, the day after July 4th weekend. Did I mention it’s the Friday before July 4th weekend?
Tomorrow night, we are packing up and going to the woods for a week. We will have a cabin with four beds and an old fashioned grill, the kind that uses charcoal, by the front door. We will share an outhouse with the thirty other campers. We will keep our food in coolers that will swallow ice like it’s beer at a ball game. The perishable food will get warm quickly so I need to pack a lot of granola bars. And peanut butter. And bread.
That’s the thing. I need to pack.
My daughter pointed this out to me while she gazed with horror at my exam. It consists of about five different assignments to cover everything we discussed in class. I need to transform four newspaper stories into thirty second radio spots. Next on the list is to explain what it takes to write a good proposal, and I’m pretty sure he’s not looking for something that would work on the Bachelor. Before I’m done I need to create a cover letter as a person applying for job as a Student Employment Director. (I am not thrilled with the cover letter portion. I don’t want to be a student employment director, not even a little bit and I’m afraid my lack of enthusiasm will show.)
Did I mention it’s Saturday of July Fourth weekend and I don’t even know if I own a flashlight and we are going camping for a week?
For the grande finale, I need to write a complete story- not a partial story, a novel, a comic book, an article, a Facebook post, a tweet, or an epic poem- a complete story. It must contain the words mentor, autonomy, conflagration, enigmatic, pithy, contrarian and pedestrian. (I’m surprised he didn’t give us the option to turn it into a radio show, my professor does seem a bit partial to radio.)
I’ve been writing stories for a long time now, and I like to write them in my own voice. My own voice is not pithy. It is everything but pithy. This is why I stay away from Twitter and people that like to tell me to get to the point.
Let’s take a look at enigmatic as a place to start. To be clear, I love enigmas. I love being around enigmatic people. They tend to lurk in shadows wearing mysterious cloaks or impeccably cut suits, have perfect eyebrows and great back stories they’ll share if they have enough expensive whiskey in their system. But enigmatic people aren’t really crazy about me. I’m not pithy enough and I can’t afford even cheap whiskey. Even if I could, I wouldn’t buy it. Cheap whiskey is kind of gross. So I don’t think even the kindest of enigmatic souls would give me enough material for a whole story and since they make me nervous I don’t want to ask.
I might be able to write a story in my own voice about being a pedestrian or I could talk about the beginnings of a conflagration I found in Colin’s bedroom the other night.
I walk a lot of places, and have rather strong feelings about pedestrian rights. I, as a pedestrian, have the right to cross into the middle of the street into oncoming traffic if a. I successfully make eye contact with the driver, b. it is either under thirty five degrees or over seventy degrees, fahrenheit, or c.) I am wearing heels higher than three quarters of an inch.
That would be a pretty unpopular story, even with me, because the majority of us are drivers most of the time. Walking out into oncoming traffic is pretty stupid. I wouldn’t make a very sympathetic narrator.
I can’t talk about the fact that at one thirty in the morning I was woken with a very strong feeling I was overseas in Amsterdam, I think. I dreamed I was perched on a bar stool in the middle of a bar that had been open without closing for business since 1987. As soon as it became clear I was actually in my basement in Milton, Massachusetts, I crept upstairs to investigate.
My son was holding a pipe with a bowl big enough to fit a baby’s head. It was overflowing, a tiny bonfire of sorts, and he was lifting to his lips when I opened the door. Until he gets a little smarter, or a lot older, he hasn’t earned the right of anonymity in my stories, photographic absence from my Facebook page on the first day of school and allowing me twenty four access to his cell phone. “This is not the path to autonomy!” I whispered to my son and his friend. I didn’t want to wake up the dog. The smell of pot makes her chase her tail and bark at the rug. This would then wake my daughter who was sleeping with the dog.
Even though he hasn’t earned any rights to privacy, I’ll respect them anyway and leave that story out.
The word that really concerns me is contrarian. I have always defined myself as a pacifist, so I’m not really comfortable with the contrarian point of view, though I guess one could be contrary and peaceful at the same time.
My son might disagree, basing his opinion on my position on mobile devices. According to my son, every other teenager on the planet has their cell phone available at all times-while they are in the shower, during final exams, at Aunt Margie’s funeral.
I am also a party of one when I insist he put the phone inside the phone case. According to Colin, it shouldn’t matter that the device cost seven hundred dollars if the teenager has a strange and steadfast position about not needing a phone case. Other parents don’t make their teenagers use phone cases, ever. It wouldn’t bother other parents at all if they went out and spent thirty five dollars on a phone case the girl at the Verizon store with the really cool tattoos, pale pink hair and bubble gum heels recommended.
It bothers me.
Why did I believe this unusual expert in retail telecommunications? I believed her because I am firmly convinced that everyone in the world knows more about my son than I do.
I bet he would have bought and used the case if he’d gone to the Verizon store without me. He would have listened to her.
I bet he’s a pot smoking, rule breaking, dirty clothes under the bed hiding, community service avoiding teenager because he saw me jay walk so often when he was a child. Actually, I’d grab his hand and and drag him across the street, while he squeaked “Mom, shouldn’t we wait for the light?”
Next time I have the urge to parent someone, I’ll mentor a cat. I think it’s pretty safe to say most of them are already screwed up, or at least they are so enigmatic, no one will be able to tell if I do any damage.
I’ll visit the online Quincy Animal shelter after I write this story. I think I could use a cat.
Did I mention I need to pack?
I’m a jaywalker and a procrastinator.
Considering that I was his role model, I’m lucky he’s nice to animals, does well in school and talks to me from time to time. He’ll even discuss politics over dinner.