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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I remember when I first started writing my blog and began my relationship with Facebook, I’d post vignettes about snow days, dancing the kitchen, swim meets, football games, bedtime rituals, and photographs of first days, holidays, days I had the phone close and the lighting was right.

Then life got more complicated. My children, who had been the focus of my world, who were still the focus of my world, didn’t really want me to talk about them anymore with the world.
I did anyway. I mean, cold turkey?

Lately, I’ve been pretty quiet.

Life is hard right now, glorious, exhausting, magnificent, heartbreaking.

And, then there’s the politics piece. No matter what side you’re on, most of us are carrying around a lot of rage, with a healthy side of fear.

No one expected we’d end up here. It’s the coldest war, inside our own country.

So lately, when I update my status,
I tell everyone to-
Look at the moon,
Listen to this song,
Check out what this guy had to say-(third grade drop out story, google it),
Read my friend’s book.

I am not the only one sitting on the front stoop,
looking up,
barefoot and reverent.
Even though the only sound is the breeze, an occasional car sliding by, and Sophie’s sigh.
Others have taken a moment to watch the night sky;
I have company.

When I sing along to a song in an off key soprano,
I am singing along with the writer, the singer, and everyone else,
Whose been swept up, for a moment or three,
Inside the melody and bass guitar.

On the late afternoons,
while I immerse myself in a novel,
or weep when I hear an old man’s tale of his father,
I have company.

I’d like to be here
for those that need more than the
moon or a pop song
To get thru the night
And say
Thank you for keeping me company.

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.

It all started with church,
This idea of getting ready for Monday-
To try on a different approach
To first light morning chaos.

I’d become one of those people
Who write hymns to their crockpots and can tell you
Which days the children
Need gym clothes.

(I am also a person who knows
Anything
Can happen.
Just because I’ve located
My stockings and checked them for tears
Does not mean I believe
I have control
Over tomorrow
Or anything else,
For that matter.)

I head to the gym for
A swim, some sweat,
and some space
To reach and drop
Stretch and bend.
I think about summer.

Maybe next Sunday,
I’ll schedule a pedicure
to get ready for spring
Or my next time at yoga.
At least once a week
I find myself surrounded
By well groomed women
In two tone leggings
Doing down facing dog.
In position, I’m faced with
Feet that scream neglect
Even louder than my kids
When I suggest last week’s
Corned beef and cabbage for dinner.

This evening-
One extra load, one last check with each kid
Do you need pencils?
Do you need a ride?
Tell me now because
You are old enough to know
I have no idea
When your recital will be, except that it will probably happen between now
and the first week of May.

Let me know whether your first game is at home or away.
Tell me, or text me,
Then tell me, or text me again.
I don’t care you don’t want me to be there.
I’ll put on sunglasses,
Wear the other team’s colors
and probably show up twenty minutes
After it’s over.

Coffee is measured,
Fruit is sliced,
Clothes selected, inspected,
Heels lean in the hallway.

Lunch is tucked inside tupperware,
This is good.
It won’t go bad
When I forget it tomorrow.
The world won’t come to an end.

(I know this because
I’ve devoted most of my life
doing everything I can to avoid
getting ready for anything
and so far… well, look outside.
You know what i’m saying?)

I spent an hour an a half doing
Everything I do every morning
in about twenty minutes.

And I still haven’t brushed my damned teeth.

or had a drink

or read the Sunday paper.

I’m ready for Monday
Though I’m carrying a bit of a grudge.

I like now,
Sunday night,
the moments before the alarm.

I like now.

.

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.

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.

 

 

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.)