Humbled

November 13, 2017

I can tell the temperature,
within a degree or two,
first thing, every morning,

when I open the door
to let the cat in.

When I hear my best friend’s voice
over the phone,
all she has to say is hello,
and I know if it’s time to reach for my car keys,
make some soup,
or find a spot to listen.

I read body language,
talk to dogs,
and understand why
the three year old boy next door
finds poop endlessly amusing.

But I don’t know what’s going on with my 17 year old son.

I know where he is-

a flight of muddy stairs
a damp towel outside
a closed door.

I eavesdrop on his conversations,
Not to hear the words,
But to try to recognize his voice.
It hasn’t worked.

He is steps and oceans away.

I am here,
with clean laundry.

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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.

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.

 

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.

Don’t forget about the dog poop- I warned you  
If things got bad
And they got bad
There would be repercussions.
Scoop it, bag it, sneak it into the Starbucks dumpster.

And the dog.
Walk the dog- 
not around the block-
The pavement burns her paws,
Take her to the park.
It’s not soccer season yet,
Bring a bag in case someone sees.
Use it
Even if 
nobody’s watching.

Check the website for your summer work, 
Do it.

Email your coach,
Tell him what he wants to hear
and do that too.

Brush your teeth, 
Floss,
Don’t only eat food flavored 
Buffalo
Or from a bag
Or orange.

Respond to all the girls that sent you
Snapchats.

Be kind to everyone that asks to 
Follow you.
(I haven’t asked but I know
Better.)

I remind you 
to empty dishes, 
walk the dog,
Sweep a floor.

I don’t ask you
To follow or accept or friend me.

I keep our conversations about
The dishes in the sink.

I update you 
About what 
The world expects.

I text instead of call.

You talk to friends on FaceTime.
You laugh 
And ignore everybody else.

I read books, 
Solicit prayers from strangers,
And send you bullet points 
so what I need from you
Is clear 
And listed by
By priority.

-Call me.
-Do your homework.
-Clean the yard.

I check my phone
For your response
All night.

(Sent from my iPhone

which is well aware

The iPhone

to which the message

has been sent

Is currently quite busy.)

 

Aftermath

April 2, 2016

Before I go to bed, I have to water the plants, put out kibble for the cats. I lay out my clothes, check stockings for tears, the blouse and the sweater for coffee stains.
I lock the doors, close down the computer, set the timer on the coffee and the phone.
Then, I take a moment, or i am caught inside the thought- what will happen to us tomorrow?
My family is not having an easy time.
How hard will it be?
Will things get better?
Are things worse than I know?
I know the serenity prayer, I say the words.
I lean into peace, sometimes find myself sliding towards terror-
I’m not a fan.
There are too many damn things I can not change for the people I love best, and I need to make things better.
I can’t.
So I say it again.
Then I bribe Sophie the sweet with a biscuit to join me for a half an hour of tv.
March 2016

15 feels like shit.

February 22, 2016

Let’s just say a friend of mine has a teenage son.

And this friend’s been having to deal with a lot of teenage angst.

This friend has been on edge, which is a nice way of saying she’s ready to pull all her hair out. My friend likes her hair.

Then my friend took a moment to remember how it feels to be miserable and left out and scared and angry at the whole world.

She remembered what 15 felt like.

It felt like wearing jeans two sizes too small- uncomfortable and embarrassing, or being lost in a shirt a shirt 2 sizes too big, that your mom swore looked great, knowing everyone thinks you look ridiculous. It smelled like Clearasil and blackberry brandy, anger and old kleenex. It tasted like tears, flat beer and words that couldn’t be taken back, no matter what. It felt like regret and fear and rock n’roll and springtime and the heart when the phone started ringing and the heart when it realized the phone was never going to ring again. It felt like all these things every single day, every single hour. Just thinking about this made my friend very tired.

My friend is thankful she is not 15.

My friend is going to try to use a combination of breath, empathy and attending her “kickit” kickboxing twice a week to help her not make his misery all about her.

My friend is going to try to be a little more understanding of what he’s going thru.

She is not going to let her sympathies turn her into a doormat.

It is going to be a process.

I wish my friend a lot of luck.

 

 

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Perpective

December 5, 2014

 

At this moment in time, I know where my car keys are, my eyeglasses, (They’d been missing for a month, and last night I had a dream that revealed their location. Really.) both of our tv remotes, the cats, Sophie the Sweetest of Pups, my gym bag, the favorite cup, the house phone, the mobile, scissors, pens- I can even tell you where to find a band aid.

On the other hand, I misplaced the tablet, our dryer is busted so there are clothes draped on every available surface and our towels are crunchy, Christmas is coming. I need to make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned, and I’m having a hard time adjusting to the whole new full time job thing.

I have a new job! A job I love at Quincy College, 2 minutes away from our house, with a terrific boss and a really cool team that is kind and doesn’t mind that sometimes most of my sentences end in exclamation points.  And Christmas is coming!

But I haven’t had as much time to go to the gym as I like, and I miss my friends and long dog walks with the Wondrous One.

Breathe.

I know where most of my stuff is, there is a gym in the basement of the building I work, my friends are on Facebook, and I know where my children are. I know they will be coming home to me tonight, safe. And that we live in a tiny corner of the world where the odds are everyone is coming home tonight.

I am fortunate woman.

I am also a sad woman. A woman whose heart has broken more than a little in these past few weeks for all of the mothers and sons out there who aren’t so fortunate.

There is space inside me for both.