Dealing

April 23, 2017

I’m the parent of a 13 and 16 year old.

It recently occurred to me how much time i waste looking at old snapshots of my kids, tripping down memory lane.

Every time i see Colin or Katy, anytime between the ages of two or ten, in a random picture, I grieve a little. The chubby, flushed cheeks. The easy smile for the camera. The giggle just below the surface, and the memory of the easy hugs, the non stop conversations at dinner, during which I would count the moments till they were in bed.

Then there is the time spent where I reminisce with other parents, friends, or any random tired strangers approximately my age standing in line at Target with a cart full of slim tampons or Axe body spray, about when we were young. There was no Instagram, pot was mostly worthless, porn was Playboy, and everybody played outside. In those days, teenagers didn’t spend all of their time looking at screens. while making really bad choices and posting pictures about the entire experience.

How much time have I wasted missing my own children, albeit the smaller, less complicated versions? Yes, preadolescence is really cute. Everybody under 12 looks adorable, especially to the people that met them as tiny, pink faced, noisy blobs of anger and insatiable demands, wearing silly tee shirts, tiny socks, and the most necessary underwear ever, diapers.

Even the tortured debates- karate or saxophone? Hip hop or girl scouts? Do they stay at the table till they have eaten at least three brussels sprouts or do they go to bed without ingesting anything with nutritional value at all so I can take a bath before Sex and The City? Even in the middle of these meaningful conversations in my  head,  I knew I was playing house.  My policy on vegetable consumption was as meaningful as the decision not to enforce the pants with zippers on holidays rule.

I’m sure both my kids have spotted the look on my face, peering at an earlier versions of them, in photographs carefully placed in CVS frames. They know I miss the days before pimples, charger wars, intelligent arguments that refuse to end because I say so. They can tell there are times when I see them as taller, paler imitations of my babies, my children.

Shame on me.

If I was so entranced with the early years, and not prepared to step aside to celebrate them in all the horrible glory of early adulthood, then I should have signed up to be a preschool teacher and skipped the rest.

As for the rest of it… yes, times have changed.

There is the internet. A million tv channels. Kids have their own damn phones and we don’t have to share one line.The porn is ruder than it ever was, I think, or it’s more easily available.

My kids are growing up and in the present, they can record everything stupid thing they do while the world watches.

I can mourn the way they were and the way things used to be or i can step up.

These changes, and the crazy stuff going on in the world, have given me a thousand opportunities to talk to the beautiful aliens across the kitchen table. They aren’t always in the mood, but sometimes bribery, in the form of expensive chocolate or a trip to an outlet store, works. Sometimes, they take their plates up to their rooms and the phrase ‘thousand opportunities’ seems as outdated as Mister Rogers and Peace on Earth. And sometimes we linger, night falls, our voices carry out over the radio. Sometimes, we listen, while the other one speaks.
.
If I continue to wallow in old snapshots of tiny toddlers, or vague memories of simpler times when I had to cross the room to turn the channel, I’ll only be looking over my shoulder.

Chances are I’ll get hit by a train, a tangle of smelly laundry, a bag of hula hoops and sidewalk chalk, or a thousand pairs of outgrown cleats and basketball sneakers.

I’m better off looking forward- leaning into the hugs and the angry debates, ducking the garbage and ignoring the hormones, and looking ahead].

I’m scared to death and I can’t wait for what’s next.

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
Our father.

There were meandering walks on tree lined streets at the age of 15,
Giddy, stupid, and hungry
For bagels or cookies
but afraid
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 was along for the ride. In                                                                                                               between,
I slept like the dead in a
Bedroom cloaked by
Tightly closed, thick velvet
Curtains.

Then, came my son.
I didn’t choose him
any more
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
Forever.

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
For me,
he grew tired
And found
Ways to pass the time
On his way to becoming
A man.

I’m here now.

His shoes are in the hall.

His world is private,
On instagram
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 easily
As some boys
Laughed at spongebob squarepants.
He doesn’t cry anymore.

I hear pop songs
About love
And I think of my son.

I want to tell him
Everything
But he’s
Already gone.

I wasted a long time
Waiting for a dead man
To speak.

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
bread.

Sometimes,
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
even though
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
To witness
The best of him-
Which is going to be amazing.

My son, by age sixteen,
Has taught me more
Than everything I knew
Before him.

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.

 

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

A cigarette

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.

I would

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

in between\

And afterwards

And now.

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.

It’s hot.

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,

finally.

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.

 

 

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.