Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Friday, December 20, 2013
When they were wee children with the glint of Christmas lights in their eyes- expectant, restless, exuberant- we gloriously holly-decked, crafted, caroled, gingerbreaded, merried and lighted all the days from Thanksgiving to the arrival of that elusive jolly old elf. We picked a freshly cut tree and hauled it home filling the house with eau de Yule. We unwrapped the army of wooden nutcrackers to the intent admiration of the boys who handled each one with care- testing the wooden jaws, beholding the dazzling hand-painted uniforms. They reverently placed each ornament on the Frasier fir of that year- asking for the origin of each decoration. We strung lights in every doorway. We binged on Bing, Ella, Andy, and Vince- screaming at the top of our lungs with Miss Piggy when she sang the refrain Five Golden Rings on The Muppets 12 Days of Christmas. We cuddled under blankets and warmed our Christmas hearts with Charlie Brown, the Grinch and the enchanted world of Rankin and Bass. We baked and frosted and spread melted chocolate on pretzels which they gleefully called poop logs. We drove through the city looking for the best Christmas lights and decorations on houses. Our world was illuminated by their delightful fascination. It was magical. We were making traditions that would forge a solid sense of family togetherness and memories that would last forever.
This year I unfolded and decorated the new artificial tree by myself. Convenience replaced the pomp and circumstance of tree trimming days of yore. Wait, I had a little helper who alternated between bouts of interest and hyperactive destruction. She loved every ornament to its shredded, ripped, shattered, splintered demise with her intensely tactile fingers. The nutcrackers stand in a police line up on the mantle- their painted orbs are frozen in a flash bulb Surprise! expression. Lifeless, unloved. Each snowman in our small collection is missing an arm and their snow caps are prematurely receding- also due to Violet’s curious hands. We are short a few strands of lights this year- which seems to be the theme for this Christmas season.
The children with their minds and eyes occupied by other distractions, barely registered the rooms adorned in Christmastide. 'I’ll pass' is the RSVP to the invitation to partake in a mere 30 minutes of televised holiday bliss. I tried to engage Violet in the sweet story of that affable melon headed boy and his spindly tree, but she was more content to run in circles and try to ride the dog. And the other day while Princess Commando was watching a holiday commercial featuring gingerbread men, she had the gall to turn to me and say, “Hey, you should make gingerbread men this year. You’ve never made them before.” WTF? One of my favorite photographs is of her 4 year old face squished up with that mmmm, mmmmm, good expression- chin tilted to the air with a rack of gingerbread cooling in front of her. Note to self: in your next life, wait until the kids are older to try to rev up that memory making machine because clearly anything that happens before the age of 11 falls victim to childhood amnesia.
In my dimly lit house, with my broken ornaments and my shrinking Christmas spirit I felt myself start to sink in Grinchitude. I didn’t want to offer myself up to the sting of rejection by extending any more invitations to decorate cookies or watch holiday movies. I was going to hoard what little glimmer of light I had to myself. But lo, the second boy child came to me and- miracle of Christmas miracles- asked if we were going to watch White Christmas again this year. And First Born Son, chimed in with a request for hot cocoa. Princess Commando added, ‘And poop logs! Can we make poop logs for the movie?’
Reality often falls a distant second to the Christmas dreaming that goes on in my head. But, if I give myself up to believing in them again, I can taste a little bit of that holiday magic. And it tastes like a poop log.
Posted by Amy Cappelli at 1:53 PM
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
I have a dog
She's old and grey
And, all she does is sleep all day
She lies in the same spot on her bed
And tricks me into thinking she's dead
But when I'm gone, she finds the spunk
to tip over the trash and feast on my junk
Thursday, December 5, 2013
I was lost in my own house. I called my husband. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.’ He could hear Violet’s tirade from the other room which began with my ‘No’ in response to her request to cut her own hair with blunt scissors. I don’t like you! I’m being mean to you! Santa’s not going to bring YOU any presents!
Lately I feel the same way, kid.
‘It won’t be like this forever. She’ll be in preschool soon. You can go to work- find a job- if that will make you happy,’ The Mr. offered in support.
I’ve been here for 17 years. I’ve wanted to be here all of this time. When it all began, I was gloriously filled with a sense of purpose. I was young- I didn’t know that purpose could have more than one dimension or that you could find it more than once in a lifetime. To stay at home and mother was the most important thing- so I gave up other important things. It was one of the few aspects of life that came naturally to me. I basked in spending every waking moment with my young children. To be present, available, and aware. To teach, to guide, and to create memories.
Then the children entered the tween years and the three year old became a mean boss. As they each became more independent- they pulled away. It’s what we want for them ultimately- to become their own people, to solve their own problems, to take care of themselves. But as they pulled away, the edges of my purpose begin to fray. My guidance falls second to that which they receive from their mentors at school. As for creating memories, my suggestions to ‘get in the spirit’ of whatever season or event there is to celebrate are met with a drone of ‘Mehs.’ I deck the halls alone. And then there is that abusive little thing who is a doll for anyone else but me- who carves up my furniture, sneaks onto the shelves and dumps out all the pieces to all the board games; and glues craft sticks to the wall and tears the Christmas ornaments to shreds, and steals my make-up, and balks at my attempts to play with her.. My purpose has been whittled down to housekeeping- of which there is plenty and for which there is seldom a ‘Thank you.’ I long to want to want to be here.
When I close the door behind them after they've left for school and the dogs have settled in for the day, I begin to wander the house searching through the laundry, the dirty dishes, the billion pieces of paper Violet tore on the floor, the dog poop, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the phone calls to doctors and dentists- to find my sense of self and to recover that divine intent which made me feel secure in my station in life. Do they really need me to be here? Did they ever really need me to stay home? There are millions of children whose parents work outside the home and they still have solid family values, incredibly tight bonds. They are bright and self-sufficient. They create beautiful memories. I didn’t stay at home expecting gratitude from my children for the things I gave up to be here. But, still it would be nice to know- Did it make a difference in your life?
At 2:40, the buses start rolling down the street, depositing the neighborhood children. I unlock the door for my own kids. The dogs get restless, barking at the call of children’s voices. At 3:00, Princess Commando walks up the steps and into the pack which greets her with enthusiastic tail wagging and licks. She plops on the couch. ‘Come here Moth-er,’ she says in affected tone of a valley girl. ‘I need your love.’ She actually says those words. ‘I hate school. I have too much homework.’ She scoops up the little dog who growls in protest at her smothering. She settles next to me, ‘Can you help me study for science? It’s just vocabulary.’ I’m a starving prisoner, lapping up her small offering. ‘Yes!'
Then Henry comes in with his Eeyore slouch- his shoulders hunched over, heading hanging low, a curve in his back. ‘How was your day?’ I ask. ‘Same as every day,’ He says in monotone. ‘I still don’t know where I fit in. I still don’t know who my friends are.’ I feel the raw scratches in his soul from searching. They hurt as if they were my own wounds. Today he lets me ask questions and he answers them. Today he doesn’t sulk off to his room. He parks on the arm of the couch. And I sneak in my own experiences and small triumphs over social anxiety hoping that he’ll glean something from it.
Then First Born Son, congenial as always- walks past me and plugs his MP3 player into the speakers. ‘You gotta hear this song I just found.’ The song is He’s My Japanese Boy from 1981 by Aneka. He picks up Violet and swings her in the air- she screams and laughs at the same time. They catch the rhythm together and a dance party commences. Princess Commando pulls me to my feet and we hop around like fools much to Henry’s chagrin. It’s a little too much happy for him, but I see the corners of his mouth lift in amusement.
I may not always know what I am supposed to do. But for a moment my sense of purpose was restored. I needed to be a part of the impromptu dance party ignited by an obscure song. And for the first time in a long time, I really wanted to be there.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
I'm at Mamalode today. My essay When I was a Grown Up is being featured today along with the work of some truly fabulous writers for this month's theme: VENT Click here to read the essay. Please feel free to re-post and share the piece from Mamalode's website. And definitely check out these wonderful Mamalode writers:
“The more opportunities we have, the more likely we are to be able to handle the unexpected.”
-Gever Tulley, Beware, Dangerism!
On a recent walk through the woods at Emery Park in South Wales, NY, we came upon a clearing encircled by evergreens. A zombie playground punctuated the mowed grass. 'Can I sit on the swings?' Violet asked- not one to ever pass up a seat on a swing set- even if the seat grazed the ground. We assessed the rusted chains, the sharp peeling (probably lead based) paint, the steep dip of the top bar- no longer joined with its support beams- the split seat. 'Sure. Go ahead.'
I typically tend to hold my breath while she plays with abandon on the playground- counting down the minutes until I've given her a fair amount of time and I can scoop her up and leave. The swing set reminded me of Gever Tulley's book 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do). While it wasn't quite up there with Squash Pennies on a Railroad Track, Make a Bomb in a Bag or Lick a 9 Volt Battery, it was an opportunity to allow her to experience a sense of danger without completely throwing her in harm's way. Explore the unusual sensation of the rickety, unstable counter pull of the metal posts lifting off the ground as she tried to propel herself forward. Listen to the eerie un-dead groan of the chains as she reanimated them with her tiny weight while above our heads a hawk circled the metal carrion. Wrap her hands around the corroded place where hundreds of children- for decades before her- positioned their hands.
Those children probably grew up in an age when letting go was not tied to reservations about safety. It was the expectation. Go outside! Explore! Dare to play! Children are certainly better for it- for each chance to move, climb, experiment, search, navigate, get dirty, find themselves knee deep in creeks, color the sidewalk, deconstruct and reconstruct things, building a store of experiences to help them handle the unexpected.
On that note, we are off to lick some 9 Volt Batteries.
Friday, September 20, 2013
The surface of the shelves in Princess Commando’s room are a three dimensional collage of her fascinations, mementos, and imagination. A whimsical timeline of her life- Pokemon figurines from 4th grade, the beach glass she held in her four year old hands, a rubber bracelet her older brother gave her to support some relief effort somewhere in the world, a fancy tin box with the words ‘Random Crap’ painted in vintage letters, birthday cards and special messages from her teachers, little creatures roughly sewn with her nimble fingers.
How much of myself am I allowed to be? It’s been the question of middle school. That potholed road lurching the wagon and jostling resolve. I tell her that as long as she keeps letting the goodness of her heart seep into the world, she should always to be true to herself. But being true is sometimes discomforting. Sometimes it causes an unwelcoming glance or builds cardboard walls between her and those who are fickle to her friendship.
Being true and longing to belong becomes a tricky balance. As she is maturing, she is beginning to understand that she does not need to sacrifice her beliefs and amusements for others approval. But, she chooses to stow them safely away instead of advertising them like badges on a backpack. The shelves are the altar she kneels before to remember former comforts and certainties.
I was dusting her room one day-gingerly trying not to disrupt the order of things. But as I maneuvered my dust cloth into the tight spaces between the objects my clumsy fingers rattled the shelf and like dominoes the figures and trinkets tumbled. One little box and its contents spilled onto the table below. There were four baby teeth scattered between the lid and the box. And piece of paper folded a hundred times so that it was no bigger than a tooth. I carefully uncreased the paper. In her tight and tidy hand writing it said, ‘Long live the Tooth Fairy.’
It’s been two years since her faith in the Tooth Fairy dissolved. It was a milestone in her life- the first which marked a transition from childhood to preadolescence-an agonizing awakening. Seeing those baby teeth- the ones that fell out after a new truth was told- made me want to tuck $5 into the box just for her effort to remain reverent to the parts of herself that once were. I tenderly scooped up the little pearls and put them back in the box along with the piece of paper, fastened the lid and placed it back on the shelf. Even though so much has changed for her in flash of time, as long as that box remains up there, the Tooth Fairy lives.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Sucked away with a chill
Away with the ringing of bells
Away with the saddles on their backs
Away with hooded sweatshirts and pants
Away with the clumsy morning dance
Away with the zombie trance
Away with morning car ride sun glare
Away with new class schedules tripped up with error
Away with the singular noise of a snoring dog
Away with the coffee that cleared the fog
Away with the exhalation that escapes my lungs
Away with the pinch in my heart, a song unsung
Away with the anticipation of the groan of the afternoon bus
Away with the small thrill of the reuniting of us
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
My essay, The Truth Is, is featured Mamalode today, along with the work of some really fabulous writers. Click here to visit me over there.
We can’t return
We can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game. – Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game
No matter where we are going, no matter the length of our travels, my passenger’s side rear view mirror contains the image of my girl’s scrunched face trying to prick my attention to solicit a beam in reply. If it’s warm, she rolls down the window and leans her chin out like a puppy lapping up the breeze, hair flying wild. Childhood in a snapshot. It’s swiftly getting left behind in the rear view mirror. With Princess Commando entering 6th grade, Henry beginning his freshman year of high school, First Born Son closing out his high school stay in senior year, and a three year old who overnight has grown legs and lost her baby face, I have been gazing into that slip of glass more frequently lately. Lingering in sweet comforts of the way we were- moving forward with butterflies in my stomach.
I took Princess Commando to visit her former school which houses grades Pre-K- 4. The building recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. She marveled at the new wing with its floor-to-ceiling windows, a dedicated Art room (instead of Art on a Cart), a full sized gymnasium. She was amused by the cosmetic upgrades and the arrangement of the classrooms. She ran her fingers over her former locker number. Her shoulders sank.
“I wish I could go back.” It was so much simpler then.
We walked down the same hallway we traveled on the first morning of kindergarten 7 years ago. It was only yesterday that I twisted her honey highlighted hair into two jaunty ponytails on the top of her head, helped her pull on her colorful tights and slip on her suede moccasins. The corridor is brighter now and at the end of it, there is a wall papered in a life sized black and white picture of a tree-lined promenade-a blown up photograph of a parkway designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the school’s namesake. The lane unfurled through time and space. I stood before it focusing on the point where the perspective narrows. The future and past locked hands in a bittersweet waltz. Zephyrs of hope and longing spilled off the print. My 11 year old standing on my right and her 5 year old essence on my left.
No matter where we are going, no matter the length of our travels, no matter the physical or emotional distance between us, I will seek their faces- eyes wide with wonder, hungry to learn, yearning to become the people they are today- in that slip of glass.
First Born Son on his first day of Pre-K, 14 years ago. It seems like 100 years ago. It seems like yesterday.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
... it means I'm going mental. It's a process- slowly drawn out. The children see shades of its end result- the nasty snapping, the switch that's flipped. The docile doe turns into the howling werewolf poised for a kill. Its cause is summer. And having children. Who are home for the whole summer. And caring for those children so much that I am spending more time on volunteer work for their school than I would on a full time job. And struggling to find time to do what I love to do. And trying to remember what it is I love to do.
The Mr. asked me the other day- what would make me happy. He was being kind, truly thoughtful. He thought he might find a way to bend the course of things in my favor- just a touch. He was hopeful that I would tell him happiness lies in a night out with him. Or finding work outside of the house and putting Violet in daycare full time. Or getting to go away some place I've always wanted to visit. Or riding horses. Indulging in some small pleasure- just for myself.
The truth is I want to kick everyone out (talking dogs can stay) and enjoy an absence that is not even afforded by the return of my darlings to school. I need 24 hours. At least. They are free to enjoy cotton candy eating, twirl- a- whirling, vomit inducing fun at an amusement park- their holy land. I want to clean my house. Scrub away the dust and scum until I'm choking on disinfectant and wearing the perfume of Murphy's Oil Soap. And I want to enjoy object permanence- nothing shifts or gets added to the tableau- nothing spills. I want to revel in the noises that come from our 100 year old house. And the dogs. And my own squishy soul. Then I want to sit at my desk and finish an idea. I would make it a good one.
But truly, I just need that time to miss the people that I never get a chance to miss because how can you miss someone or something when it is never ever out of your sight?
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
For months there was radio silence-a feeling that I was losing him- watching my 13 year old, H, disappear into a fog of depression.
Then one day, the switch was flipped. After dinner, I noticed he was still in his seat when normally he would have retreated to his bedroom.
‘Do you need something?’ I asked. He shook his head. ‘No. I just wanted to sit here a little longer.’
‘Can I sit with you?’ I asked. He nodded.
‘How are you?’
He seemed better. I hoped it was the truth.
There was a period of time with the three older children- between the ages of 3-10 years old- that I was fooled into believing I had parenting down. We sailed effortlessly through a small, flat world. I knew their little souls like my own breath and heartbeat. We had a rhythm- predictable, comfortable.
I believed that my children would be open books with stories I would always have a hand in writing. I believed they would always spill their darling thoughts at bedtime. One day when I’m a grown up I want to be like you, they whispered hopefully. It was our truth.
As they entered the tween years, I was pummeled with a whopping dose of who are these people and what the f@#$ am I doing? They began to artfully untangle themselves from our coupling. Out of my league, I became an actor in their play-fumbling in the mire for answers to questions only they held the solution to. Still, I pretended I knew best when advising them or issuing commands they were quick to question. Because I’m older and I know more and because I said so and that’s how it goes. Whether or not I believed it, it became our truth.
Then they started lying for sport about stupid things like brushing their teeth, cleaning their rooms and feeding the dog. Truth was easier to dodge because they no longer fit snuggly under my thumb. They lied about turning in homework; about skipping Art class; and about revisiting the tantalizing www.dicks.com when they claimed they were searching for the sporting goods chain of the same name.
When my oldest entered the later teen years- the dangerous stuff he did in earlier days came out in unsolicited hindsight confessions- smoking weed at a sleepover, hitchhiking on a country road when staying at friend’s cabin. He taught me that I’ll never really know the lengths of their deviousness unless I have them under 24 hour surveillance. And, even then, I’ll never truly know what they are thinking.
The serpentine truth that is bound and gagged somewhere in the fathomless cavern of their humanness is the one that is most troublesome. It’s the one that is covered with the thin mantle called ‘There’s nothing wrong.’ H had gone through a spell over the winter. He became withdrawn, abstaining from conversation; losing weight; struggling with sleep; with articulation. He looked ill. His grades dropped and his apathy spread. At home, he stayed in his room, lying on his bed staring at the ceiling, obsessing about some vague issue he had with the universe that he could not change because it was humanly impossible to change it.
Let me help you became my plea. I’m okay was the reply. Mere words- not enough to satisfy the gut twisting perception that this child was in trouble. I’m okay. You want it to be the truth so badly.
I yanked the covers off of him each morning. Twenty questions became twenty thousand. Neither one of us would budge. I sought the help of a counselor who invoiced us each week to let H sit there for an hour and not answer questions.
I ached for the ugly truth because I wanted to fix it, reshape it. I’m older and I know more and because I said so and that’s how it goes no longer overrides what has become their truth.
‘ I can’t leave you alone because I love you.’
‘I will be ok. You have to trust me. I am depressed but I don’t want to die. This isn’t about my sexuality. Or religion. I’m not taking drugs. I haven’t committed any crimes. No one is bullying me. I can handle this. I know you love me. I’m sorry, but you’ll never know what I’m thinking. You just have to trust that I will be ok.’
But that’s what I’m supposed to say. Trust me, it will all be ok.
That night at the dinner table, he confessed that he had abruptly stopped taking the migraine medicine (also used to temper anxiety) he had been on for over a year. It had worked so well for the migraines. He had only subtly complained about not feeling like himself, not having energy. He didn’t know how to articulate that he was feeling dead inside. He was desperate to feel something real again.
But, of course, despite my warnings early on, he didn’t understand that going cold turkey causes withdrawal symptoms. In my late 20’s, my doctor advised me to abruptly discontinue the anti-anxiety medication I had been on for 3 years. This was years before SSRI discontinuation syndrome was considered a legitimate issue. As the brain is severed from the medicine’s suspended state of animation, each cell becomes acutely aware of the shift, ravaged in an excruciatingly painful battle to find a baseline. The gut feels like it’s filled with poison; food is averted. There are feelings of electrical zaps throughout the extremities; hallucinations; endless chills; uncontrollable twitching; a disconnection from one’s self and loved ones. It all made sense now- how he had arrived at such a dark place.
He wanted to reclaim his body on his own. He wanted to be strong enough to handle this decision without us so that when he came out on the other side, he could prove to us that he was getting older- able to make weightier choices about his health and well being. But, those all-knowing teenagers don’t realize that there is still a path and a process to follow. My heart sank. I could have been with him, helping him so he would not have suffered like I did. I would not have been pretending- I would have known what to do.
We talked for a long time- about all things- eventually landing on the word universe. A word I often use in place of God as a governing power. I told him that I find the word comforting, enveloping.
‘Really?’ He looked surprised. ‘Universe is a word that keeps me up at night. It is so vast and lonely. It bothers me that there is so much of it that I will never figure out or touch. It overwhelms me. It makes me feel like I am at the edge of a cliff and there is no where to go. Or I’ll just disappear into it all.’
His sentiments were a mirror reflecting my feelings about motherhood. There is still so much to learn- so much I will never figure out or touch. My constellation has four souls with a rhythm, breath and heartbeat like my own. Each one holding its own mystery. Each one holding its own verity. If I am lucky, once in a while they will open up, glowing a little brighter- illuminating the answers I have long searched for. A universe no longer vast and lonely. A realization that we share the same truths.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
Violet’s little voice is always transmitting a story or a half-made up song that permeates the airwaves. She has this thing lately that sounds like daydreams spoken aloud about the things she will do when she grows up. Or maybe they are things that happened in a former life as they are reported in the past tense.
When I was a grown up, I climbed a crane to the top of a building and jumped off into the sky.
I had my work blinders on, trying my best to let her constant hum stay in the periphery- but the little tune she was singing to The Dog kept snagging in my head.
‘Twinkle twinkle do svidanyia. How I wonder how you do svidanyia’
‘What did you just say?’
‘Do you know what it means?’
‘It means good- bye.’
Shit- where was I when she was learning Russian?
I had been preoccupied and overwhelmed with trying to find freelance projects to help contribute to our financial pot. As the kids have gotten older the well has gotten deeper. Swallowed in it is my patience, confidence and sense of fun- not that my kids will ever say that I had any to begin with. The truth is I don’t want to play and I just don’t know how to- with heavy boughs threatening to break over our heads.
When I was a grown up, I drove my car to the beach and I played all day and collected dead fish.
Her father and brother were away over a rainy weekend. I wanted to take her to her first movie at the theatre with Princess Commando. But she had been so nasty all morning. At the pet store where I was trying to find a no bark solution for our schnauzer, a sickening shift of a migraine started to pinch a nerve in my jaw. I wished they had no bark solutions for kids especially after I asked her nicely to stop jumping on the dog food and she yelled clearly, for the benefit of the elderly spectator beside us, ‘I don’t like you! I want to strangle you.’
When I was a grown up, I ran away and never came back because I was mad at you.
It was an excruciatingly long day. When it was close to bed time but not quite there, I let her enjoy the novelty of a ‘kid shower’ bringing the shower head to her level where she pirouetted in suds.
When I was a grown up, I took showers with my whole family every night.
Afterward, she dried off in her room under the costume of her hooded butterfly towel by dancing to top 40 music on the only station that works on the broken CD/ Radio/ Nature Sounds player. She spun in the spinning room. Nerves shot hellfire into my brain. I laid on her bed trying to focus on her perfectly matched rhythm and musicality. It was impressive- the effortless playfulness of it all- her little bright moon flashing me with every turn. I envied her ability to let go of crabby-day grudges, her abandonment of petulance for dance in a blink- her carefree movement through each day, trusting that everything would be okay.
She bowed at the end of her last song.
‘Oh, Mommy, I really do love you,’ her little voice filled with sympathy for her laid out mama. ‘I’ll be your mommy. You’ll be my baby.’ She tilted her head to the side with empathetic eyebrows.
When I was a grown up, I took care of you when you were sick.
Sometimes the universe gives you a break in disguise. She punches you with pain and there is nothing you can do but ride it out. Just be in the present. Just play along.
Violet ran her tiny fingernails down my arm, sending tingles and a surprising sense of comfort under my skin. There was nothing else I could do but receive her warming touch. She was the mama and I was her Baby Dear.
When I was an old lady and my little girl was a grown up, she made sure I was clothed, fed and bathed. And I knew everything would be okay.
Posted by Amy Cappelli at 6:12 AM
Friday, July 12, 2013
This summer we have our first little vegetable garden with some lettuce, cucumbers, carrots and squash. But that's not the only thing that's growing around here. We got us some hair. Some big red curly hair. It's truly something to behold. Henry never had curls as a kid. Maybe a little wave- but nothing like this.
The Mr. has suddenly become a throw-back to fathers of the 60's. "Son, when you gonna get a haircut." There are way too many battles to wage with teenagers. Wild manes need not be added to that list. At least he shampoos and conditions each day.
I have a piece at Mamalode today. The publishers have been kind and generous enough to share my essay, Shedding with the greater Mamalode audience. The essay goes live at 4:00 PM EST. Please visit Mamalode - read my piece, read the contributions of others, enjoy. No other magazine highlights and celebrates the emotional aspect- the good, the bad, the humor and heartache- of parenting like Mamalode does. Please feel free to share the link to the Mamalode piece. Have a great weekend!
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Tank tops and old man socks
Unwashed summer copper hair
His stinky lair
I don’t mind if he’s here
I don’t mind if he is only starting to look for work
Instead of working
He works for me
Always wrangling the little one (a full time job anyway)
Anticipating when to get her out of my hair
I don’t mind that he doesn’t have a huge desire to get his driver’s license
That he’s only just learning
I’m relieved that he’s not manning a vehicle by himself
Out of sight, on the road with lunatics
Away from me
I actually don’t even mind if his room is the black sheep of bedrooms
If he reeks
If he eats all of my gluten free cookies
and he’s not even on a gluten free diet
That he stays up late
Wakes up late
Grumbles in response to my suggestions about his life
That he doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life
He’s only sixteen.
In a few months we’ll be filling out college applications
It’s a good thing our funds are all spoken for by our bi-weekly household needs
He can’t get too far away yet
He doesn’t want to
There’s time for working and driving and leaving
And showering so that you’re clean enough to attract a potential mate
I still have so much teaching to do-
How to wash laundry, make doctor’s appointments, order food at a restaurant ( that doesn’t serve chicken fingers); really scrub and disinfect a room; really take care of a dog (scratching behind the ears is only scratching the surface); balance a checking account and a meal; budget time; make difficult choices about relationships, finances, health; know when to call the plumber; shop for Christmas and birthday presents; listen to the women in his life and not try to fix them; live an authentic life- live and work and breathe with integrity…
The list goes on and on
I just need him to be solid and steady when he goes out on his own
To come home willingly when the call comes
And take care of me
but for now, I don’t mind at all if he’s here
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Have fun with the ones you love. Eat. Explode some stuff. And be safe and happy.
Friday, June 21, 2013
On most days- when just simply dealing with my humanness- I feel lost in the woods. It was fitting that on the day that I struggled with the complicated emotion of losing a pet rat and trying to not make it matter- I actually found myself in the woods.
I awoke knowing my day would begin with death. Our sweet, grey, Dumbo-eared rat, Gwennie, was dying. A pituitary tumor rendered her unable to eat or walk. It came on suddenly- as illness often does in the world of Rodentia. It was only a matter of time. Princess Commando kept vigil for three nights with a ten year old’s faith in miracles. She was so weary when The Mr. drove her to school loaded up with end-of- the- school- year presents for teachers. But, she needed to be there. I did not want her to watch as Gwennie finally surrendered. I, also, selfishly wanted a chance to mourn before I had to catch my daughter’s tears.
I balanced life and death at my desk. With my right hand, I finished a drawing for a client. With my left hand, I traced gentle circles on the rat swaddled in a blanket on my lap. Her sides inflated and deflated with numbered breaths. In the background, Violet bounced on the couch in front of the TV licking the marshmallow dust from a nearly empty bag of Lucky Charms she raided from the cupboard.
“Gwennie’s dying,” Violet somberly said, coming to lean her sympathetic head on my drawing arm. At three years old, Violet has grown accustomed to the ‘symptoms’ of death. She, also, acquaints death with our garden- where all of our small animals have been laid to rest. Here the Cosmos and green beans grow. And here lies Geronimo, Pluto, Poco, Chowder.
I finished my drawing and nestled Gwennie’s body in the crook of my arm- stroking her velvet ears, her dainty feet. Please don’t let it hurt. Her heart rate, a normal 300 bpm, became slow and staggered under my hands until I wasn’t sure if I was feeling my own pulse or hers. A final insufflation. And then an electric shift that tingled through my fingertips.
Death seeped like vapors into all the rooms of the house. The animals sensed it. The dogs came to lie by my feet. The cat meowed from the basement. Henry’s parakeet on the third floor frantically chirped. Faye, Gwen’s sister, perched in anxious anticipation on the second level of their cage in the adjacent room. I placed Gwen in the cage. If Faye didn’t see for herself- it would seem like Gwen had just disappeared. She nudged her sister’s body with her nose and pried open her jaws with her own tiny paws, breathing into Gwen’s mouth. She groomed her sister and then tentatively darted out of the cage to curl on my lap. I cried until my eyes were dry and achy. It stinks that this is the inevitable conclusion to life.
Here grow the gladiolas. Here lies Gwen.
The death of a pet rat does not easily illicit sympathy from extended family or acquaintances. A three- legged, one -eyed, cat-killing rabid dog is apt to garner more compassion. Rats are creatures to be poisoned and banned from homes. So we kept the pinching and twisting behind our ribs to ourselves. We tried our best to subscribe to ‘life goes on.’ Ironically life went on through Henry and Princess Commando’s weekly archery lesson- where the ultimate expectation, if you are a good student, is that you will eventually take life.
In a clearing encircled by woods, the students lined up behind targets, drawing their bows, emptying their quivers. It was only the second week, but the instructor, Steve, had taken an interest in Henry and Princess Commando. Perhaps he appreciated that they took their lesson seriously- focusing on his direction, responding to the gentle position of his hands on their hips and shoulders- molding them into the archer’s stance. Steve turned to me with wide eyes after Henry hit the bull’s eye, “This kid’s onto something.”
Steve left us for a minute to find someone to take over his station. “I’m taking these four on the course,” he announced to his rotund, pockmarked replacement- pointing to Henry, Princess Commando and Steve’s 16 year old daughter and her friend. He motioned to me with his hand, “You can come too.”
Steve is not an imposing man- I could tell from our interactions last week. He would let me be the quiet observer and he would teach my children in a way that I would teach them if I only knew how to draw a bow. We followed him through the muddy ruts in the grass. Me and my city kids in our thin canvas shoes swallowed to the ankle in the earth. Soles and souls surrendering.
The woods were lush and swampy. The deeper we receded into the trees, the muddier we got. The more the mosquitoes buzzed in our ears- the more the children straightened their backs, falling into a natural archer’s stance.
We forgot for a moment.
A new world opened.
Princess Commando’s eyes were bright with fascination at the unfamiliar call of birds above us. A woodpecker’s staccato tapping reverberated steadily through the leaves. Steve challenged Henry to move further away from his targets. “I don’t think I’ll be able to hit them,” Henry worried. “Try,” Steve encouraged. And that one, gentle command, gave my children the confidence to focus, aim, let go. Steve’s daughter, already a seasoned archer, encouraged and celebrated each mark the children made and lightly teased at the arrows that disappeared into the woods. We felt enveloped and supported. Occasionally, Princess Commando would meet my eyes, her shoulders rising to her ears, her mouth tight in a forlorn pout. I’d nod in return, I know it hurts.
There was no score to keep. We lost and we gained arrows. We followed buck tracks. We sank deeper into the trees, into the earth. Breathing. Away from the motor babel of the city. Away from disquietude and conflicting feelings of home. Do we have to go back?
And then at the second to last target, as the kids retrieved their arrows, a grey mouse ran across their feet. The older girls shrieked. Princess Commando’s eyes chased after it- weaving in and out of the soft verdant carpet. There’s no pretending. There goes life. On and on.
Friday, June 7, 2013
Oh, she's three alright.
'I don’t love you!' screamer
'I wish you would go away!' dreamer
Mad as hell spitter
Itchy little critter
Sugar n spice- nah, she’s bitter
Hug pusher away-er
‘Don’t touch the garden hose’ sprayer
Poopy talk sayer
No dance ballet dancer
No wearing pants-er
Ignoring time- out prancer
Chocolate milk dripper
Kitchen chair flipper
Playdoh carpet smasher
Mama’s jewelry stasher
No bath! thrasher
Miss no napper
Nasty little sister
Shaking little fister
Splinter, hangnail, blister
Love you, mama friender
Blowing kisses sender
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
She still finds a way to squeeze into her favorite chair-this dog, well- worn like a child’s favorite toy. For a long time, she betrayed her 12 years. Luminous eyes, body nimble and quick. In late winter, we brought Little Dog home. Though she was nearing retirement, The Dog was a good teacher- demonstrating what it meant to be a part of this family. When it rains and The Dog’s coat is soaked to the skin, Little Dog is dry because he hides underneath her. And she lets him. If a dog can be compassionate, she is.
Then overnight, The Dog wasn’t spritely anymore. She was lazy. Ignoring the food the kids dropped on the floor. Only thumping her tail when we called her name- but no longer able to spring up and come. Wooden legs, arthritic curve of the spine, thin clouds across her eyes. Like flipping a switch, she was suddenly an old lady.
I was lying with her on the floor one night, rubbing her stiff legs. She sighed like she does when she is happy. Don’t grow old. Please don’t grow old. I’ve loved you best of all of them-my loyal, patient, grateful companion. My resolute protector. You never tried to run away-even when the gate was wide open. How many would-be-ne’er- do-wells have crossed to the other side of the street because you gave them a firm warning? ‘Don’t even think about messing with this family.’ You remembered that day, so long ago, when I walked by with our baby boy. When you heard me coming, you bolted out of a dumpster-chains wrapped around your puppy ankles. A man was walking ahead of us on the path. You ran to him first. For some reason, he thought you were mine. ‘Lady, call your dog please!’ he yelled frantically as you viciously assaulted him with wet kisses. I called you and you came running to me. And from that point on you were my dog.
Her tail thumped against the floor and she plopped a heavy head in my lap. Little Dog curled up against her. They both exhaled sighs of contentment. It was then I realized that bringing Little Dog into the family wasn't just for our benefit- to enjoy the companionship of another canine. The the arrival of Little Dog had given her permission to begin ‘letting go,’ to peacefully, guiltlessly enjoy old age without the fear that she would be abandoning us. She nestled her head deeper into my lap and then rolled over and looked me in the eye. You are going to be okay. I promise.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
A plow combs the beach lifting winter’s refuse and readying piles of driftwood for bonfires that will not be lit until Independence Day. The kids race around the grumbling machine in a game of chicken. Carcasses line up to tell a story of a long winter. The kids love this part. They carry big sticks so that they can ‘touch’ dead things. Here, a fish with a mouth full of teeth- wide and sharp enough to take off a child’s leg. Here, the skeleton of a feline meowing with each lap of the waves through its delicate jaw. “He was hunting out on the ice for birds. But he didn’t know the ice was too thin and he fell in,” the girls tell me, sadly.
Our parents bought a cottage in a neighborhood which is a few strides from the beach. In their youth, my parents spent summers along the waters of Lake Erie and
Lake Huron. They wanted to give us
the gift of summer cottage memories- sunspots dappling the water, swimming with
determination to the horizon line; building sandcastles and digging through to
the other side of the globe; hunched over beach glass scavenging.
I have a love hate relationship with the beach. I love it at 6 am with a dog on a leash and a long stretch of wet sand without a soul around to speak.
I hate it when on the day we are visiting, the local newspaper prints the first of a 5 part series about the quality of
Erie’s water. On this day, the title reads, Heavy rains turn Lake Erie into a toilet. It’s not a feel good report. But, oh is it validation for my
killjoy hampering of my children’s desire to be fully submerged in subtle
sewage. I’m instantly reminded of the
Labrador retriever who came joyfully bounding up to us in the water many years
ago only to squat and drop a deuce. While the problem concerning our water quality
is much more serious and overwhelming than dog poop on the shoreline, from that
day forth, my mind would forever regard the Lake as a lavatory
littered with bobbing Labraturds.
For me, the beach is not a destination that I aspire to reach. Rather, it is an idea that I daydream about. It’s lucky that the cottage is not on the water. It leaves some mystery about what truly transpires there. But dead fish and cats on the shoreline do not lie. They caution of tempestuous weather, of thin ice, of pollution. But most of all they tell us, ‘Dude, look at me! I’m dead and my flesh is rotting off right where your little Susie is setting up to construct a sand replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.’I wish, just once, something really cool would wash up on the shore after the winter thaw, like a message in a bottle or a pirate ship.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Today is a glorious day! It's the Motherboy of all days. Every thing that happens today is a means to an end.That end being- firing up Netflix later tonight, gathering the kids together and basking in 15 new episodes of Arrested Development. Happy Commencement of a New Season of Arrested Development Day!
Friday, May 24, 2013
I hold the sun browned, slender, softly muscled, soccer ball kicking, crazy-dancing, scooter riding, bird chasing, lazy- around- the- house leg in my hand. She patiently stands in the tub as I run the pink razor through the strawberry scented lather. Gently, tentatively I make tracks, lifting the downy hairs, her child’s fur. I demonstrate how much pressure-how to position her wrist-how to rinse the razor. The pajama clad little one wanders in claiming to have to use the potty. But she just sits atop the closed toilet lid- mesmerized by this unusual display of grooming in our bathroom. “Someday, when I’m big, you’ll show me?” she asks-eyes wide with promise. Her big sister is less enthusiastic about this rite of passage. She approached me with reluctant readiness to perform this ritual of young womanhood. Her classmates had been running around with smooth legs for a while. She was beginning to worry that someone would make fun of her naturalness.
Just the night before, she fell to pieces on my bed questioning what it meant to be a girl when you do not fit in with the norm of your pink, shiny, boy crazy peers.
“It’s not fair that I was born a girl. Boys don’t have to worry about all of these things,” she wept- squeamish at the suggestion that she is developing and needs to wear a bra every day.
“I am not a girl. I am not a boy. I don’t know what I am.” She held a striped sundress in her hands, the one distinctively girlish item picked up to appease me on our shopping trip earlier in the day. She looks effortlessly gorgeous in a dress. But, dresses are straight jackets that suffocate. She is apologetic for her lack of girlishness. I felt awful for making her feel that she needed to be sorry for who she is and for not celebrating her girl-uniqueness more. I pulled her onto my lap.
“I know who you are,” I said smoothing her hair. “You are cleverness, brightness, creativity and innovation. You are beloved sister, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, niece and friend. You are lover and caregiver of animals. You are effort at 110% You are persistence and sometimes manipulation (to this she smiles). You are athleticism. You are musicality. You are the artistry of illustration. You are imagination, dreams, childhood, innocence. You are stubbornness. You are frustration. You are love. You are just you. It does not matter if you are a boy or a girl. Or if you wear dresses or a suit and tie. We love you for all of you.” Her body softened as she exhaled letting go of some of her worries about acceptance in her world.
As we stand huddled in the bathroom she is stoic about this reminder which defines her gender -which sets her apart from her boy pals. But, as I run the razor tenderly over her legs, I ache at another reminder of the shedding of childhood. I hold my breath- wishing to pause this moment where her safety and security are still in my hands.
Monday, May 13, 2013
When I asked Henry what kind of cake he wanted for his 14th birthday- he answered, 'Just white.' And did he want me to decorate it? 'No. There's something about a plain, white layer of frosting that makes me happy.' Simple enough. Like me, Henry is introverted and often misunderstood because of his quiet tendencies. He prefers to spend time thinking rather than being in the thick of doing. He likes to keep things simple, not fussy. But beneath the sober exterior, there is a depth and capacity to feel, understand and connect with people and ideas which surpasses that of his peers and even some adults we know. Plain, white frosting inspired a plain,white birthday card. Just a piece of paper folded in half. But because he is so much more than simple and plain, this is what is on the inside:
Thursday, May 9, 2013
I received a phone call from the kids' assistant principal yesterday regarding something First Born Son posted on his Twitter Vine account- a 20 second video berating the First Lady for new mandates about school lunches. There was an expletive or two thrown in as well. The assistant principal stumbled upon the video while patrolling his own daughter's Twitter account. He just wanted me to be aware. He spoke to my son as I would have spoken to him- reminding him of the proper way to conduct oneself through social media- and in life. While it sucks to get a phone call about your child's indiscretions and it feels awful to realize you are still so much in the dark about the way he presents himself to the world, I am grateful that others care enough about him to help reinforce the values we try to teach at home. It was another opportunity to reiterate our expectations with him. Parenting in this technological age- in the waves of social media and cell phones- often feels like a losing battle- even when we are firm and vigilant. This was another reminder that while teenagers are smart enough to know what the right choice is to make, they are still stupid enough to make the wrong one. The following is a letter I gave to both of my sons.
Chilean author Isabel Allende wrote: Write what should not be forgotten.
Freedom of speech is a precious thing. It is a privilege too often taken for granted and abused. In this age of technologic instant gratification, it’s too easy for your generation to exercise your freedom of speech. But, you do so without the social conscience of the implications of your words. To spout off at the mouth, to type that sentence, to post that 20 second video, to share that picture without consideration for the legacy that you leave- cheapens the gift you have been given.
There is no courage in spewing words haphazardly. It takes fortitude and integrity to act with restraint, respect and reflection. It is not as easy to sit down and take your time to collect and compose your thoughts, words, arguments, sentiments with awareness. It is not so easy to offer a thoughtful solution to a problem and to work toward that change. It is not as easy to lead as it is to follow. But the extra bit of effort and the simple act of pausing and reflecting not only on your thoughts, emotions and views but on those of others- makes you a better person, makes you a leader and helps to make you practiced in sound decision making. It helps to shape you as a human being that leaves a positive legacy.Write what should not be forgotten. Do not litter the world with hurtful words and weak declarations.
There is no soundness in the defamation or degradation of another’s character or name. There is no integrity in the celebration of poor social behaviors and dangerous transgressions (such as the promotion of videos which highlight drug and alcohol use among your peers). There is no honor speaking without substantiation. In that moment when you are riled up, itching to share-close your mouth and open your eyes. Be receptive to the answers which will keep you on the path of uprightness.
Write what should not be forgotten. What will the words you leave behind continue to say about you long after they have been written, spoken, posted?
Your character, your trustworthiness and reliability are hinged on the impulses you have or have not chosen to temper. In the expressions of yourself that you choose to share with the world- everyday speech, pictures and videos, social media platforms, academic and personal essays and prose- be not careless with your words. Write only that which leaves a moving impression- broadening the the understanding of the human experience, compelling others to join the cause for positive change and inspiring others to think and act with courage to remain incorruptible in values and judgment. It is dangerous-the impetuous act of speaking whatever opinion you fancy in a fleeting moment or posting that sentence, that picture, that video. Those fleeting disseminations are bound to you for eternity- for others to stumble upon. Those in the position of power to grant you opportunities for higher learning, employment, and enrichment will form the wrong impression of the person you truly are. Before you post, consider Is this truly important to say? What message does this convey about my character? Would I want my family, my teachers, my future employers to read this? While moderating your words and practicing an economy of speech does not yield the immediate virtual thumbs up of your peers, the satiation of acceptance- it leaves your path clear and the palette of opportunities more full and plentiful.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Princess Commando is going to embarrass me in front of our neighbors. At ten years old, she is practiced at manipulating my emotions especially the unpalatable ones I do not want to entertain on the first sun soaked, supplely bloomed day of spring. I am not going let her bring me to the brink of losing my cool. I just want to get her to where she needs to be.
“But my throat hurts so bad,” she sobs bolted to the railing on our porch in her soccer gear. Shoulders slump, a reluctant ponytail hovers over the back of her neck, salty streams lay white tracks on her cheeks.
I don’t doubt her. I can tell when she speaks there is dragon fire in her throat. But she has already missed so many practices and she is trying to earn a roster spot on the team she has been training with for the last 6 months. I am sympathetic to pain, but I know that this is not just about discomfort. It is about fear of failure- the anxiety of not being able to perform optimally when she is under the league's scrutiny.
“Come on. Your dad and sister are waiting in the car.” I put a tense arm around her, practically lifting her feet off the ground and forcing a smile as neighborhood children scoot by.
“No, no, no,” she protests in moans which threaten to take a turn for the hysterical.
I nudge her into the backseat. Her pout is punctuated by a brusque stomp of a foot on the floor.
Her practice is 40 minutes away near
catch a glimpse of my sullen girl in the rear view mirror. Forehead pressed
against the window, a scowl creasing her face into an ugly etching. I know that
when we arrive at the campus, she is not going to leave the car willingly. We
are once again in a position of questioning how far to push. If we press harder
could this be the time when it clicks-when she feels empowered to make a good
choice? If I just work through
this discomfort, I will feel so much stronger and relieved knowing I tried. As she curls up in the back seat,
recoiling at the extension of her father's hand offering to help her out of the
car, we know we’ve reached the threshold of coercion. There is no sense in
getting angry. Princess Commando knows what's at stake if she misses
practices. Maybe she's just not ready for this high level of competitive
soccer. Niagara Falls, NY
Since she entered 5th grade in September, our relationship with her has been challenging. It’s not her fault, really. It’s middle school. Middle school has a way of making tenuous the bond between parent and child. In this in- between time of giving up child’s play and longing still for the reassurances of childhood, there is so much working against them. Personalities are changing, bodies are changing, standards and expectations are changing.
We try to reassure her that she will one day regard the afflictions of middle school with appreciation for having made her stronger, wiser and, hopefully, more compassionate. But, truly, middle school is less about a wealth of experiences and more about a series of multiple vexations that need to be endured (by both parent and child).
We’ll hold our breath- until it’s over. We’ve been through this before with the boys. It is my only consolation- knowing that there is an expiration date.
On the way home, we decide to take a detour to
. The air is warm and tender, stirring our souls to
stretch. We park in
the shade, offering to let Princess Commando stay in the car with the windows
rolled down, but she trails us on the path to the Niagara
Falls American Falls. Violet
has never been there. I anticipate the sparkle in her eyes when she
notices the wide veil of mist rising off the water.I have been there so many
times but it never loses its wonder.
I set my eyes on the patchwork of visitors pressed against the guardrails-the colors and textures of their skin, their clothing, the mist lighting upon their faces like millions of cool, wet kisses. The hairs on my arms stand up at the sight of their collective expression of awe. There is a tingle in the back of my knees, like being too high on a ladder, as I watch The Mr. bring Violet to guardrail at the edge of the Falls. One cannot deny the supreme power of the cataract raging before us. My maternal fear conjures a vision of my baby being swept away.
Princess Commando walks off in her soccer gear, wisps of sunlit hair- delicate dancing strands of silk- on her forehead. She looks pale and pensive as she beholds the raging water. A tour boat bobs like a child’s bath toy below the Falls.
She looks so vulnerable. She wraps her girl’s hands around the guardrail- as she also wraps her hands around so many changes, clinging to small reassurances. She does not trust herself to be strong. I feel that tingle behind my knees again. She has been swept away in the rapids of a growing year and that tenuous thread between us tugs abruptly.
In that moment, my love for her which has been tried and tested is like a
Niagara flowing powerfully, freely. It rages
and roars at the tribulations of growing up. It topples the tiny
twigs of doubt, discontent, and disappointment. As I wrap my arms around her,
she leans into me letting it flood her. There is time for her to become the
river flowing freely. But for now she is the boat and I am still the tide
delivering her safely back to the shore.