My Children

The three I carried in my body and some born of my heart


Posted by on Oct 20, 2011 in My Children, Poetry | 0 comments

I left my fear of heights somewhere along the road
I didn’t notice it was gone until I came to the last bridge
Stretched across the sky between the mountains.
I don’t know where I misplaced it, but I do remember where I first found it,
My nails clawing at the bricks and clinging to the flimsy metal rail
Halfway up the lighthouse tower facing the Atlantic
Thirty-eight years ago come March

Perhaps it died while I was sleeping
Like some ancient holocaust survivor brought down
Because he stepped off the curb into the path of a bus
Perhaps it withered away from neglect
Forgotten in the closet of my mind
Like last year’s fashion

Now I stand here staring down the abyss of my life,
Almost fearless
Well except for remembering the Mother’s day
My daughter and I laughed, cried, and got drunk together
And the morning sun found me bleeding and sticky with wine
On the sofa with no memory of how I got there.

She got religion somewhere after motherhood and marriage
And lost her memory of all the days we wasted
Doing stupid and loving things together and separately.
My nightmare of driving off the end of the bridge in Baltimore
Was the portent of a death I wanted long, despite my laughter.
I don’t know why she loves me not
Now that I have chosen to live.

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“Because I said so” and other child rearing hints

Posted by on Feb 4, 2011 in My Children, Spirit | 1 comment

When I was pregnant with my first child I had no idea what being a parent would be like. I moved through the months of changes in my body with awe and amazement, from the first butterfly flutter of movement in my abdomen to the definite thud of tiny feet and hands. I was so young I didn’t really consider my expectations about motherhood, but I do remember the first time my newborn was brought to me in the hospital, wrapped in a tight little blue blanket, looking and smelling like he had been freshly dry-cleaned. I sat in bed looking into his perfect little baby face feeling like Mary holding the Christ child. When I brought him to my breast and the sweet little rosebud mouth latched on to nurse I was earth goddess, with nourishment flowing from my very soul. After about 5 minutes of this fantasy he let rip the most horrendous gassy noise, filling his diaper and turning that lovely baby powder smell to a sour stench. After I got over the shock of the moment, I started laughing at myself. Seems like my little flight of the imagination had not taken into account the reality of an actual live human being. Even after the 12 hour labor with all it’s accompanying indignities and discomforts, and then the final frantic rush of an emergency C-section, here was the moment I became a flesh and blood mother instead of the soft out of focus dream variety.

The actuality of our children does come as a surprise. We daydream about what they will be like and what our reaction to them will be, so it is a bit of a shock when they turn out to have the same proportion of faults and strengths as we do ourselves. Raising a real human rather than the fantasy one is a humbling experience, making us face things in our own character we would just have soon left undiscovered. When I was carrying my daughter I had a friend who was expecting shortly after me. This was her first and only venture into motherhood, having started a bit late in life with her second husband, a man who was supporting his two from a first marriage. My friend had just as many opinions on rearing children as she did on every other subject. I grew a bit weary listening to the constant stream of subtle and not so subtle criticism directed at how I was rearing my two boys, and how superior she would be when her little carbon copy arrived. The child had her diet, toys, friends, and career picked for her in utero. No candy, cookies, or sweets ever, and if grandmothers did not comply they would not be allowed to see the child. No dolls for her girl, only educational toys of a more masculine nature to prepare her to take her place in the high stakes world of tomorrow. Private school, so she would meet a better class or people, hopefully descendants of Pilgrims and Presidents, then on to an Ivy league university. She would study to be a doctor, and not just any doctor; she had the specialty all picked out, ear, eye, nose and throat. I forget why, money probably. Her husband, as down to earth and practical man as you would ever want to meet, said without expression, “The whole world is waiting for you to have this baby dear.”

I was on the phone with her when her water broke. I knew that because she started screaming and it took me a while to talk her down. My own newborn was in my arms and my 2 year old was playing on the floor, so my physical presence wasn’t going to be particularly helpful. I told her to hang up the phone and call her husband and the doctor, but not to panic (the universal admonishment), because she would have plenty of time before the baby arrived. She called me back 10 minutes later to ask me what she should wear to the hospital. I told her it wasn’t necessary to make a fashion statement, but she might want to grab a towel for the car seat before she left.
She called me the next day from the hospital to tell me her baby girl was the most beautiful one in the nursery, and I told her I was sure she was. That would not be a lie. After spending many hours in labor to push something as large as a cantaloupe through an opening normally the size of a soda straw, the effort causes a photo shop glow to form around the object of that exertion, and temporally blinds the mother to all but her own offspring. When I was introduced, I the first thing I noticed were the Dumbo like ears sticking out from the bare little football shape head that newborns acquire on their tortured route through resisting flesh and bone. Mom was standing there with a beatific medicated smile and Dad had the shell-shocked look of a man just recaptured after a jailbreak. I kept my congratulatory statements vague and diplomatic.

In about six months the baby turned into a fairly decent looking infant, and after many years she became a beautiful young woman. In the intervening time my friend, the micro manager, did everything she could to enforce the rules she had made, but to little avail. The child turned out to have the inflexible temperament of her mother, constantly begged for snacks and sweets, was sent to the office on the very first day of kindergarten, struggled with her school studies, hung out with a bad crowd in high school, and decided she didn’t want to got to college. When the child came to our house she played joyfully with my daughter’s endless supply of pink plastic girl toys, the ones I let my child pick out for herself. Once her Mom suggested we should go back to her house to play, but the wee one protested that there was nothing to do at home. When my girl went to get cookies for a tea party, Mom had a look of panic on her face, but finally relented. We sat down with coffee and my friend related regrets about her own wasted childhood where she ate a lot of sweets and snacks, struggle with her school work, hung out with a bad crowd, and decided against college. I bit my tongue, offered her a fourth cookie, and held my laughter until she went home.

It is a shock when our children come to us not a blank slate for us to write on, but wired with abilities and personality often similar to our own, our spouses, or even the in-laws we deal with only grudgingly. I was not immune to this discovery process. Once I was lamenting to my mother about the amazing musical talent my middle child had on the violin and how frustrating it was that he never practiced.

“I had really hoped one of my children would become an accomplished musician,” I said to Mom with a sigh.
“I always wished the same thing myself” she retorted.

Being a good parent is learning how to let go, first of your belief that your child will be perfect, then the hope they will be like you only much better, then the misconception that they are yours to mold at all. Somewhere between diapers and dating I relaxed, gave up my expectations, and really began to enjoy being a Mom. There were dark days when I abandoned all but hope. That is when I realized the essence of the parental role; give them unconditional love, keep advice to a minimum, and if you can stand it, let natural consequences be their teacher. Just when you finally get the knack of the parent thing, they are on their way out the door, suitcase in hand, eager to make the same stupid mistakes you did when you were young. Despite all I’ve learned, and how differently I reared my own brood, it what really kills me knowing now that my mother was right when she said, “You won’t understand until you have children of your own.”

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Sunrise in Seattle A Memory from 2005

Posted by on Nov 20, 2010 in My Children | 0 comments

Always the mountain sits and waits, at times only the faintest memory of mountain, sketched in mist and clouds, floating like a magic city above the landscape, but always there, like faith or love, even when unseen…

I wake to the SOS sound of the vertical blinds in the apartment, blown by the fan’s breeze through the open patio door. Since I am cool, and it is July, I realize I have left Virginia far behind. A half moon shines redundantly in the half moon window above me. I rise and turn off the fan and step onto the balcony and into the early dawn of Seattle. I can’t quite see Rainier yet, but a ghostly outline tells me it is still where we left it at sundown last night. A long line of black mountains extends across the horizon, with a hint of gold promising the return of the sun is imminent. I close the door against the chill and dark and crawl back into my bed. It seems a time for sleeping, but I am unsuccessful in my attempt to doze again. My mind is filled with the impressions of last evening, a beautiful restaurant patio, the cool breeze, fabulous flowers, and the crisp, grapefruit scented wine we enjoyed on my arrival. Even the bus ride had seemed exotic, a quiet, clean, electric trip through a neighborhood of wedding cake houses, interspersed with terra cotta adobe and grey cement apartments, ornamented with plants, sculpture, and flowing wrought iron. I give up on sleep and attempt to make coffee, a Seattle religious ritual, but find myself puzzled by the electric bean grinder. I dress and step back out to the balcony where I enjoy the promise of the new day, watching as the mountain reappears, splashed with spots of gold and pink across it snowy face. Some lights blink on in the hillside windows of other early risers, and dawn slides down to Lake Washington, bringing its scattered sailboats to life. The seagulls have turned out for breakfast and sing their discordant squawks, complaining about their empty bellies. Jets soar high above, carrying sleepy people to distant, unknown destinies, reminding me that my time here is limited.

When I last visited the west coast, real life had seemed so far away, but now, with family sleeping cozy downstairs, I understand how this comfortable place can be home for them. I am content as I anticipate their awakening, knowing that love abides, solid as the mountain, seen or unseen

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Time Zone Shift

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Angst, anger, anarchy, My Children | 0 comments

I have slept on this futon in my firstborn’s living room for four nights now, and only this morning became cognizant of the clock that ticks somewhat laboriously right over my head. It has the distinctive mechanical sound of a swinging pendulum, something I can’t help but believe is a calculated contrivance. Perhaps the pulse of it has been soothing me at night, the heart steady beat taking me back to a time and place of primitive comfort. After three busy days and four restless nights neither my brain or my body have adjusted to the rhythm of the northwest coast. I don’t think I can blame it on the wonderful coffee, for although my consumption of it has increased while here, I lie me down and sleep peacefully with enough caffeine roaring through my system to lift the airplane that carried me from the east. Since I have ignored the clock until today’s 3AM awakening I think we can discard that as a possible cause of my unrest. I feel it might have more to do with recent revolutions and revelations in my own life and those of my children. I am filled with secrets, possibilities, and impossibilities in equal measure.

My grandson’s birthday was held on a cold rainy Monday and all the cool kids were there. We dressed everyone up in homemade cardboard robot costumes and paraded down the street like so many happy fools. Seattle did not even blink at our absurdity. The next day my eldest son took me for a wonderful walk through Elliott Park which is sandwiched artfully between the towers of downtown and the proliferation of ships in the harbor. The hillside is wild and tame in turn and dotted with sculptures. Every man made object along the path seems to have a grace and style that says “look at me again”. For some reason my lasting memory was a lone creosote log, balanced on an angle down the rocky coast line, and bobbing up and down precariously with the tidal echo.

With so much of the day still left my son drove us over to Ballard to watch the ships go through the locks and have lunch at an old converted Firehouse. The words between us were of a private nature that required us being face to face and heart to heart. He tells me his secrets between sips of a light crisp local Pilsner that tastes like a fleeting summer day. He does not have to ask for my blessing or my acceptance, because for these few hours we are the intertwined souls that held each other fast in days gone by. As we leave the restaurant I take his hand like I did when he was a little boy and tell him how proud I am of his integrity and decency. Over at the locks the ships slip by us one by one while all the words that can be said are said. He judges not that he be not judged and I do the same. I come home filled with joy and hope and love beyond my understanding.

Wednesday night I had a less serious interaction with my middle child over dinner in a fu-fu Asian fusion joint that worked a bit too hard at being exclusive. We arrived unfashionably early and the large minimalist room had only two patrons. “Do you have reservations,” the maître d queries, in a tone that suggested she had recently been sitting on a tack.
“They were for 6:30 but we took a chance and came at 6.” She looks around the empty restaurant as if she is trying to figure out where she can squeeze us in. My son and I are both amused, but play along by following her eyes around the room. She seats us in what seems like as desirable location as any other, along the wall toward the back. After a perusal of the menu we order and dine sparingly on excellent but exorbitantly priced seafood. I leave too large a tip, just to prove I am cosmopolitan and accustomed to such practices.

The web of pretense I weave around my humble origins surprises me at times. I try to hold my center as I move through places and people unfamiliar to me, but my success with this attempt is sketchy. The young man across from me, the shy bright peacekeeper of the family, seems to have a firmer grasp on the concept of self. “In Richmond,” he says, “I was a bleeding heart liberal. Here I am almost conservative.” I compliment my steadfast child and he shrugs it off like water, for after all, it is his nature.

No matter where I land, my chameleon character cannot hold its color for long. My voice, my step, and what is left of my religion begins a slow shift, attempting to make myself indistinguishable from those around me. When I was in England I shared my colorful history with my daughter’s family by marriage. In trying to explain my roots I related a story from my childhood of the night when our Redbone coon hound gave birth to puppies under our tiny one bedroom house. My father had to crawl into the spidery darkness to remove the babies, whose whimpering woke all of the occupants above. Of course I then had to elaborate on the practice of coon hunting in rural Kentucky and further expounded that the modest house was literally where I was born. There were no hospitals, no convenience stores, no alcohol, no bars in that small town – only churches and gas stations, one grocery store, and steadfast honest people from the heartland. It stands to reason that I could not hold the pattern of my childhood sacrosanct when I left that life behind in such a tiny corner of the world.

Here, far away in the last cool damp days of the brief northwestern summer, I try on the mindset of unfamiliar philosophies and colorful people. Their dress and attitude reflect the landscape, grey and brown and black with unexpected splashes of bright color and print. I feel my colors changing to as I turn through the clothing in the cute shops of the delightful neighborhoods. Still, I am slightly out of step with the street traffic, find no discernible accent to mimic, and realize I am perhaps too old to fit into the crowd I would gravitate toward. It is this advance and retreat that keeps me unsettled here. My elder child and his wife embrace the life on this shore, love the friends they have made, and look forward to rearing their child in an atmosphere that is green and hopeful. My middle son is more stoical and merely says he fits in here as well as anyplace. I see all of them content with a full and rewarding life together.

I peer into the future from this vantage point, but like the rabbit in the Dr. Seuss story, I look around the world and back again only to see the fool on the hill trying to know the unknowable. The only thing I am sure of is that I will get on the airplane Saturday morning and fly back to the comfortable but confining place I have called my home for almost four decades. After all this living, I still have more questions than answers; at a time when I am supposed to be settled and serene, I still yearn for adventure and challenge. The stranger I see in the mirror often lies to me about possibilities and impossibilities, but she always yearns for a perfection she is incapable of achieving. I almost hope she never figures it out.

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Not Quite Ready for that Rocking Chair

Posted by on Jul 8, 2008 in My Children, Spirit | 0 comments

Some years ago my oldest son, exasperated with my search to find a pair of glasses when I needed to read fine print, bought me one of those chains with the little elastic loops to hang a pair around my neck. Even though I know I’m not suppose to look a gift horse in the mouth, I was less than gracious when I realized that he actually intended for me to go around accessorized in granny mode. He was thinking practically, in that way that men do. I was thinking, what’s next, some of those old lady lace up wedge heels, a hot pink polyester pants suit with the baggy ass and a little flowered over blouse, or maybe one of those white visor hats with blue hair peaking through the open top. What he doesn’t understand besides the fact that his mom is not ready for the nursing home is the looking for glasses thing can happen at any age, and it’s not such a bad thing.

Consider this morning when I put on a pot of coffee and sat down in front of the computer only to discover that the pair I normally use was missing. Now, I can see the screen without them you know, but I’m worried about those little crow’s feet I’m making around my eyes, so I tried to think where I had last had them. Oh yes, downstairs night before last when I was cutting tile for our remodeling project. I headed down and chatted with my daughter who was trying to get ready for a busy day. After she left I mopped the floor, started the laundry, and picked up all the cans and bottles for recycling. With a basket of laundry in hand I headed back upstairs. On my second trip down to find my glasses I hung up damp shirts from the dryer, fed the cats, finished the mopping, got on my daughter’s Wii fit and found out I had lost 5 pounds on my diet this week. Yeah! I literally raced back up the steps. A short time later I realized I still didn’t have my glasses.

You can see where this is headed, and I guess you wonder how I ever get any computer time. Well fortunately on my third trip to find my glasses, I noticed them lying on the table when I stopped to dust the living room. Humm, I thought. The coffee is done and I need a cup. Maybe I’ll write for a while. Now I know I post infrequently and you’re looking for something profound when I show up, but today you are out of luck on that count. I think the message is that after all the sorrow of my recent days, I’m just happy to be here. For everything I wanted, deserved, and didn’t get there are an equal number that I am blessed with that I didn’t earn and didn’t even know I wanted. I have enough glasses that I can always find a pair, but I promise my son that if I ever get to the point that I don’t know where any of them are I will…no, wait, I still won’t wear them on a chain around my neck. Seeing that he’ll be 40 in April of 09 I might just pass the one he gave me on to him. Maybe I’ll also get him one of those jaunty hats that the old men who drive sports cars wear. Then I will stand back thank God for having at least one of my children when I was, uh, would you believe 10? Nope, I didn’t think you would.

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London Eye

Posted by on Apr 8, 2007 in My Children, Spirit | 0 comments

My daughter, the international traveler, has an interesting and effective technique for packing her bags. An hour or so before she is scheduled to leave, she upends the contents of her dirty clothes basket into her suitcase, throws in the shoes lying around on the floor, drops in her makeup bag, and gets someone to help her sit on it so it will zip. She has resisted all my efforts to help her organize the effort on her return trips, so the only change I have caused is to make sure all the clothing she takes out of my house is clean. As you might imagine, this drives an over organized planner like myself slightly insane. I have learned to keep my mouth shut mostly, but it makes no difference, she knows what I’m thinking by the body language. She has watched me start getting ready for trips months ahead with amusement, and she likes going on trips with me because I arrive with all the things she forgot. We have learned to adapt to our wildly divergent personalities very well because she likes having shampoo and toothpaste available and I like to feel needed and slightly smug.

Today I’m making the final preparations to go and visit her in London, a process I started 5 months ago. My suitcase has been packed for 2 weeks, but today I am going to unpack and reorganize it one last time before we leave for Dulles at 1:30. I am resisting the urge to add 6 additional outfits “just in case”, like I did last time I lugged two giant bags through the tube, double deck bus, and the final walk to her house. It has been a painful process for me to sort through my wardrobe and eliminate all but the essential. Good news is all my clothing is new, because the old stuff has been shuffled off to other homes since I lost the 95 pounds. I made a decision last month that I would leave my brown outfits at home, eliminating the need for brown shoes, coats and handbags. Men among you may skip ahead to the next paragraph if you haven’t already. I know how you pack and it’s not a work of art. My suitcase will be a masterpiece if it is opened in customs, drawing ooohs and ahaas from the assembled airport security agents. They will take one look and know that no one so organized could ever allow the chaos of drug smuggling into their life. On the other hand, they will have no fears about rummaging through the bag like they might with my girl’s luggage, so I’m not sure if my theory will work.

If all goes well I will be luxuriating in the Sanctuary Spa in Covent Gardens by this time tomorrow. My girl is taking me there right from the airport for a delightful day of blissful massage, swimming, and pampering. She had tickets for the London Eye for Friday, which has me a bit apprehensive, but I am determined to do it all fearlessly. We will do the rounds of comedy shows on Friday and Saturday night and then head north to Shipley on Sunday to visit the Doody’s. From there it’s on to Edinburgh on Tuesday for a few days tour, then we will sleep exhausted on the night train back to London. I return on Thursday, May 3 and have a day to detox before I have to work on Saturday. So, more than you wanted to know about my trip to UK, but you’re not free yet. I will be posting occasionally from over the pond, keeping you all apprised of my middle age daring do. My boss offered bail money when he found out my husband was staying at home this trip. You would think he of all people would know how good I am at talking my way out of trouble.

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