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.

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Parenthood 2016

May 29, 2016

Dear Teenagers,

I’ve heard from a couple of parents that they are having similar struggles with their kids based on some stuff that I’ve written on Facebook and WordPress.

So I thought I’d fill you in on our perspective, or at least our perspective from my point of view. I’m going to tell you some things you might not know.

You probably won’t read this. You’re on snapchat, instagram, and a whole of lot other places I can’t even remember.
(I know some of you are on Facebook, but you probably signed up when you were 12 and probably aren’t reading this.)

Nevertheless, here goes-

You know how we’re always coming at you with an angry look on our faces, launching into long speeches about laundry, social responsibility and the importance of schoolwork? While we sit on the end of your bed and peer around your room with an undisguised look of irritation on our faces?

Yes, we are pissed. At least I am. But I’m about 5% mad, 75% petrified, and 20% totally without clue.

I know that all the experts say I’m supposed to be a parent and not a friend. They say it’s important to set boundaries, maintain expectations, hold kids responsible. In other words, be a parent.

I don’t know how to be a parent to a teenager. We want to hug you, you look at us like you want to spit. Or run out the door. Or slam the door so hard it breaks into a thousand pieces, but you won’t do that because then you wouldn’t have a door to slam any more and you really, really like slamming doors.

Many of us did the same stupid things you are doing now as teenagers. Not all us, and not all of you, are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. But a lot us did. And then, as we got older, we were either front and center watching someone we love struggle because of drugs and alcohol. Or die. Or dealing with addiction battles on our own.

How are we supposed to sit by and watch you the same things we did, or watched so many of our generation do? When I see a teenager stumble out of the woods and stagger across the street bare feet, even though 30 years ago I was staggering out of the bathroom, I can’t sit by and say that’s okay. I’ve been to the meetings, picked people off the sidewalk, said prayers at funerals.

What are we supposed to do about all the pictures you post? The bare asses, the clouds of smoke, the n word this and the ho that?

I know not all of you drink or do drugs. I know not all of you post crazy stuff. I know a lot of you talk to your parents, do community service, excel in school, and are amazing people.

I’m also aware thatt there are many of you that drink, do drugs, snapchat pictures that would make a blind person cringe and are failing school will go on to do amazing things. You might even be doing amazing things at the same time you’re getting naked on your finsta and stuck in summer school.

I’m just saying- a lot of the grownups in your life are totally without a clue. We walk around dazed. We have whispered conversations at work, (far away from the childless or the blessed, still dealing with bedtime drama and indelible ink on the walls,) where we compare notes. We try to figure out if we should take away your phones, call in a therapist, or just let you be.

You might be saying- let us be.

Personally, I’d love to. I’d love to step away from my kids, stop nagging, worrying, tracking, and even talking about them.

But what if I did that and something bad happened? Because I stopped paying attention?

So I’m scared. We are scared. And pissed. And hopelessly confused.

Cut us some slack. Put away the laundry.

If you are going to be foolish and silly, enjoy the moment. Laugh with your friends. You don’t need to document every single stupid, funny thing you do.

Alcohol isn’t going anywhere. It looks like pot is going to be legal any minute. Can you just wait a little while? There will be time for grown up mistakes, and you’re going to make lots of grown up mistakes.

You’ve got time. Lots of time.

So if you could give us a few minutes once a while, that would be nice. A smile would be awesome.

I think I can speak for most parents, We’d be thrilled if you could just maybe listen to what we say, some of the time.

I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Love and faith,

Mom

In the course of my life, I’ve made some really bad choices. As a matter of fact, one of my chosen topics-to-ponder of late is just how many of these bad choices, and in how much detail, do I share with my kids. Should I be a walking, talking, cautionary tale, or should I tell stories about a dear friend of mine from high school. That died a horrible, painful death.

I’m still working that out, and I will let you know what I decide. That is, unless they peel themselves away from IFunny and Instagram and read my blog. In which case, it’s a mute point.

I don’t miss standing in line for the bathroom, or checking my nose in the mirror before heading out. I don’t miss long, intense conversations about bad things that happened in high school, endless Scrabble games, or racing to the liquor store at 10:45, (I’ve spent a good part of my life in Massachusetts, liquor stores close at 11.)

I’ve never been able to figure out why I clung to those things for so long. For a little while, it was fun. We felt like we were all part of an inside joke, had stumbled on a way to feel perpetually like a member of the cool crowd. We thought our conversations were unique, our observations hysterical, our taste in clothes and restaurants and drinks and clubs and friends were impeccable.

Looking back, I suppose clothes looked good because all I’d have for dinner was three bites before I got distracted by another trip to the ladies room. Restaurants were amazing because I was only nibbling on food until I could get up and use the ladies room again. Drinks were amazing because they got me drunk, or took the edge off, depending on where I was in the evening. And friends were anyone and everyone that were doing the same stupid things that I was.

So, it’s established, I don’t miss those days. But sometimes, I miss the cigarettes. The standing outside with a stranger. The first puff, the curl of smoke and the smell of sulphur. The way that first drag established the end of a meal. The end of a day. The end of really good sex. Regret, joy, exhaustion… all of these seemed to be well celebrated with a lit Marlboro, a few minutes, and a deep couple of drags.

Now at the end of a day, or at the end of a meal, I go to the pool. We live in a small town, right outside of Boston. There is a huge outdoor pool about a mile away from our home.At 6:30 most nights, I head over. Some nights I bring my daughter. Tonight, I went by myself.

I am probably the only adult in my age group that visits Cunningham Pool without trailing behind a few kids. I know the man at the gate that checks the tags. He hasn’t asked for mine in about five years. Which is good, because I put them away as souvenirs the first day I pick them up.

I smile, make brief conversation about how hot, cold, humid or rainy it’s been. He agrees. We decide that tomorrow it will be more of the same.

Then I step inside. I peel off my clothes, I always wear my swim suit underneath. I drop them on top of my cell phone, on top of my gym bag, on top of my purse. I creep into the water, down the kiddie stairs in the shallow end. I ignore the cute babies. Most of the time, I love cute babies, but at the pool, it’s best not to think about them.

Then I swim. I slip down the length of the pool to the lap lane. First lap, I dolphin dive. I follow the floor of the pool, parallel to the bottom. I look at the pine needles and elastics. I wiggle my stomach and flop my legs like a novice mermaid. I come up, I gulp air, I dive down again. Next lap is free style. I sprint. I stretch my arms long, out of their sockets, I reach far like my coach taught me thirty some years ago. I take few breaths, I slid thru the water like a blade, or a shark, or a competitor. Next lap is back stroke. I leave my goggles on, they are cloudy, but I can make out the sun falling down, and the pine branches above. I pull hard.

I rotate the strokes. I go fast, mostly, except when I’m playing little mermaid under the water. I swim for about an hour, straight thru the adult swim, until about fifteen minutes before the pool closes. Then, I make my way thru the shallow part of the pool, to the stairs. I step out of the water I peel my goggles of my face. I pull the bottoms of my swim suit back to where they belong. I smile at the cute babies. I say hello to the moms I know, and nod at the moms I don’t . I look at the pregnant women with a mixture of awe, recognition and on really hot days, an expression that probably says “thank god I’m done with that.”

I don’t know how I can swim so long, and so fast when I consider all of the horrible things I’ve done to my body over the years. Especially the smoking. I don’t know how I can swim the length of the pool without taking a breath when I consider that for a lifetime my favorite thing to do was to fill my lungs with smoke, hold it like a gift, and then blow it away.

But I do know when I look back on these days, it will be with the knowledge that these days, and these choices are not mistakes.

I can tell my children that truth, and maybe that will hold them for a while.