Even when it’s about you, it’s about us

CAM00318I’m one of those parents.

For gifts, I give people tchochkes

With pictures of my kids on them.

This year for Christmas

It was one of those mugs you can

Put pictures of your kids on and,

In just a few tips and taps of your keyboard,

Be done with your holiday shopping in like

Ten minutes.

Did I stop to think about whether

The recipients

Needed or

Wanted

Another coffee mug?

No.

I assumed that,

Because these are picture of

The Kids,

You know,

The Kids,

They’d be interested.

The grandparents,

I’m pretty sure,

Actually really like the mugs.

But I felt a little sheepish

Handing over the two

Uniform little boxes to my

Brother and his fiancee,

Who had gotten everyone in our

Family something

Individual they might actually like.

“Even when it’s a gift for you,

It’s about us,”

I joked as they

Very graciously

Admired the mugs after

Prying them out of the unbreakable

Styrofoam packaging.

It’s true.

I don’t have time to think about

Much else besides

Keeping my kids and myself

Alive:

No small feat.

But I do recognize that

It must get tiring for people to

Ask how things are going,

And have me talk

All about

My kids:

Ear infections,

New sports season starting up,

All the school closings this winter.

What’s worse,

When people tell me

About stuff going on in their lives,

I’m really good at

Co-opting their experience

And providing a corollary about my kids:

“You say you’re recovering from a

Car accident that almost killed you

And left you fighting for your very life?

My son’s favorite movie used to be Cars!

He was really scared of that scene

Where the semi-trucks fall asleep on the road…

I bet you get why!

Ha ha!”

Parenting,

I’m starting to realize

(And this is not to news to

Childless people, I’ll bet)

That most selfless of activities,

Actually makes people

MORE

Self-centered, not less.

How can this be,

You bluster,

Imagining scenarios in which you’d

Give

Up

Your

Very

Life

For your child?

Here’s how I see things:

I pretty much think of my kids as

Part of me.

Maybe it’s because they came out of my body.

This is mostly a good thing.

It’s what makes me sure I’d

Jump into oncoming traffic to snatch my child

Out of danger.

Or scrape poop off my 1yo’s butt with the

Edge of his wet diaper

(Because I can’t find the wipes)

Then go finish eating my dinner

Without gagging once.

Same with boogers.

Your kid’s boogers?

Disgusting.

My kid’s boogers?

Whatev. I’ll blow my nose in that tissue later

‘Cause they’re practically

My

Boogers.

See how this works?

So if my kids are

Part of me,

My self-centeredness

Has now expanded to

Include my kids.

Now instead of one

Self-centered person,

You get a three-fer.

I’m not really sure what the

Point of thinking myself into this

Paradox has been

Except to acknowledge the grumblings of the

Childless population who

Complain about how

Oblivious parents can be to

Anyone around them except their

Little precious.

I’m not wishing this parenting time away

Because I know these years and days and minutes are

So dear,

But it will be nice,

Once the daily tornado of child-rearing is over,

To come up from the cellar

And have a nice chat with my neighbors

About anything

BUT

My kids.

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Antidote to mommy guilt?

MOMMY_guilt__470x4510One of my boys has

Challenges.

I won’t get any more

Specific,

Because it’s his story to tell

If he ever wants to tell it.

But he’s got some

Characteristics

That are going to make his

Journey

A little more

Strenuous

Than the average

Kid his age.

And it’s funny.

As I’m discussing him

With his various providers and advocates,

I’ll make a

Weak

Joke

About damage

I must have caused him,

And they always look at me

Sharply,

Concerned.

“You don’t blame yourself,

Do you?” they ask.

Their attention suddenly shifted

From my boy

To his mother possibly about to

Start weeping.

They’ve seen weeping mothers before;

They know the signs.

I want to laugh.

Of course I blame myself.

Are you kidding?

You can slap down

All the research you have about how

This doesn’t cause that, etc.

But I want to smile kindly and say,

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better,

But please,

Don’t bother.

No matter what you say,

No matter how many studies you show me,

I will blame myself.

You might be able to

Convince my twitching brain,

But in my gut,

I know

It’s my fault.”

The guilt and self-blame feel as inevitable as

Winter.

You can’t stop it.

It will have its way with you

And leave you pale and depleted.

The saddest thing I heard about

Motherhood was how

Guilt

Will put up a

Wall between

You and your child,

Will hinder you from loving your child

Wholly and completely.

I’ll admit I’ve

Given in to it,

Let it so twist me up that

All I can do is gaze down on my boy

From miles above him with

Mortified eyes,

Or snap and growl when he only needs

Softness and warmth.

But there’s this

Woman

I think about

Who gives me hope.

A mother of four boys,

I knew her when she was

Already elderly and

Dignified.

Two of her boys had had

Very difficult

Tragic lives.

Addiction and violence killed them

When they were young men.

And I remember her saying things like,

“He wasn’t able to get well.”

Or

“He wasn’t willing to use the

Resources available to him.”

And somewhat even

Shrugging her shoulders.

Now,

Some might see that as

Cold or cruel,

But the way I saw it, she was

Placing responsibility for her sons’

Dissolutions

On her sons.

She didn’t blame them,

But she didn’t blame herself,

Either.

I wish I had gotten a chance to ask her

Before she died,

How she at least seemed to not

Blame herself

For her children’s suffering.

I imagine she would’ve talked about

Using her own resources,

Because I saw her doing it.

She was busy with church

And service and grandkids.

I’ve been talking to

A lot of people,

Friends,

Who’ve shared their own stories,

And given me information,

Tools,

Support.

A friend just yesterday

Observed that

This is probably a lot harder on me

Than it is on my son.

And I had to stop and frown,

(I frown a lot when talking about this)

And contemplate that.

I think she’s right.

I guess I’ll take a cue from my elderly friend:

Give my boy all the resources I can,

Then step back and let him use them.

And if at some point in the future he

Stops using them,

Let him do that, too.

And meanwhile,

Stay busy, looking around me

At the world

Instead of staring

Hysterically only at

Him.

My $200 walk around Como Lake

ImageI drove over to

Como Lake recently

With my Baby Boy

To take a little

Winter walk.

Just the two of us.

It was the day after Thanksgiving

And there were

Only a couple cars in the parking lot.

It was overcast and

Cool but not cold

And utterly still in that

Wintery calm way.

As I walked pushing

The stroller, I was

Enjoying the sunlight

Through my eyelashes,

The light refracted by cracks

in the newly

Formed ice,

The hay-colored

Dormant pussy willows

And long grass

Along the shoreline.

As I rounded the

Bend near the

Parking lot to

Start my second lap,

Coming up on the driver’s side of

Our

Big

Black

Suburban

(We have four kids

And a poorly plowed alley,

That’s why)

I could see that

Something was

Weird about the passenger side window.

At first it looked like a

Frost pattern in a sunset shape,

But as I got closer I saw that

For the first time ever,

I had been the victim of a

Car break-in.

My luck had run out

And tempered glass was

Everywhere.

At first I laughed

(Humorlessly)

For three reasons:

First, this was one time I

Actually didn’t have anything

Of value in the car.

No wallet,

No cell phone,

No laptop,

Nothing.

Second,

I realized that what they’d taken was an

Empty cloth library bag that

Had nothing in it,

Not even a library book.

And third:

I have comprehensive

Car insurance.

(Turns out there was a

$500 deductible on glass.

I didn’t know that at the time, though,

So my laugh was naive.)

Ha ha, stupid robber,

I thought.

And I even just

Continued with my plan to do

Another lap.

Not gonna let this

Asshole

Change my plans.

But as I walked,

I started thinking about

The person who had

Done it.

Who had smashed my car window

On the chance that

The bag

In the foot well was

A purse,

Contained some

Cash or credit cards

Or a phone.

I had recently been listening to

Some Buddhist talks online,

And one phrase had

Stuck with me:

“If you live an

Immoral life,

You will suffer.”

And this is

Buddhist suffering:

The irritability and restlessness of

“Dis-ease.”

I know that kind of

Suffering well.

Like everyone,

I behave in

Varying degrees of

Immorality

Constantly,

And so am more or less

Continuously in a state of

Dull psychic pain,

Rattling around this earth with my

Character defects

Dangling from my

Being like the

Ghost of Marley with his

Chains in

A Christmas Carol.

So I had a moment of

Identification with and

Even true compassion for

Whoever it was that,

On the day after Thanksgiving,

Felt it necessary to

Lurk in the parking lot of

Como Lake and

Put a blunt object through my car window

In hopes that the

Bag down there would have

What

He

Needed in it.

I totally get it.

Even the violence of it

I understand.

It felt like such a

Desperately

Human

Act

To do that,

And then go out into the world

Sliding that new shard of

Suffering into the

Hole in his

Gut or

Head or

Heart or

Wherever it manifests for him.

God,

I just really

Feel for that person.

Sitting here writing,

My chest swells a little bit

Thinking about him.

It’s not even,

“There but for the

Grace of God

Go I,”

Although that’s true.

It’s just,

I understand

Suffering.

I have suffered,

And you,

Robber,

Have suffered,

And here we are,

Two humans whose

Pain-paths crossed

The morning after

Thanksgiving in the

Parking lot of Como Lake.

It’s not because I’m a

Good person

That I can say,

“I don’t care.

I forgive you.

Peace.”

It’s precisely because I am a

Bad

One

That I can say those things

To you.

Weight gain and anxiety: survival mechanisms turned against me

Evolution-of-ObesityIt would seem that this

Bag of bones I’ve been

Knocking around in for the past

38 years

Is not

Optimized

For this world I’m

Living in.

This from an

Evolutionary biologist

I heard on the radio

The other day,

Who explained it all to me:

How we’re

Wired for

Starvation and

Physical privation,

Our bodies finely tuned

Through the

Millennia to

Survive in a world of

Lack,

Of intense caloric output,

To reproduce

Ten to fifteen times,

Nurturing less than

Half those offspring

Into puberty

And then

Dying

At age twenty-five

Of an abscessed tooth-

Turned-brain-infection

Or some other such

Horrifically painful

Stone age style of demise.

All the physical problems that plague me,

He would say,

Are a result of

Our

Physical

Mismatch

With our environment.

Like polar bears in a desert,

He called us humans.

Many of our

Physical advantages in a world of

Lack

Turn into

Liabilities

The way we live now.

How I jones for sugar

Like a tweaking addict,

And then eat myself sick on candy when I

Succumb to the

Imperious urge–

Especially when I’m tired:

Supposed to be that way,

My new scientist BFF said.

We crave the

Quick energy burst

Sweets provide as a

Survival mechanism to

Get us through times we’re

Physically

Depleted.

Anxiety that can

Awaken me at 2 a.m. to

Worry about

NOTHING

AT

ALL?

Need it

To alert me to and

Help me outrun

Predators.

I imagine even

Having to pee all the time

Is partly because my

Kidneys are meant to

Process as much

Water as I could

Lap out of a puddle,

Not what I could

Guzzle out of a cardboard

Grande cup from Caribou.

Weight gain?

We’re programmed to do it.

The drive to

Not

Starve

Is about as strong an

Urge as

We

Animals

Will ever experience.

It’s actually kind of cool,

If you step

Way

Back

And think about it,

That we can

Store calories–

Energy–

In the form of fat deposits.

Imagine how very useful

That was

Back in the day.

This guy helped remind me that,

In a sense,

It’s not my fault.

There are very good

Design

Reasons

Why we’re built this way.

All this kinda

Makes a girl want to

Go live in the woods.

Get back to the

Physical survival mode

I was designed to exist in.

And it’s not because I’m romanticizing that time.

The only romantic part would be

Cutting my weight by a third

(Although all the other hardships might be worth it,

Right?)

I just want it to be

Easier to

Give the

Ol’ girl

What she was made to do.

Do you think the people who

Invented all these

Amazing labor-saving

Devices could ever have imagined

That their

Descendents would

Try to avoid using them?

I like to contemplate what will happen

Now,

If I have faith in the

Human body’s ability to

Evolve

Quickly

I could imagine a day–

Soon–

When we could metabolize thousands of

Extra calories a day,

And our bladders would double in size to

Allow for the Starbucksization of our

Fluid intake.

Will we convenience ourselves into

Extinction?

We’ll have to see.

Meanwhile,

I’m going to go

Have a Snickers bar and a pee.

A chat about fear with an 8-year-old

Jaws Movie Poster iPhone WallpaperWe were at the school bus stop

When my

First boy

Dropped one of his

Existential bombs on me:

“Mom,

What are you

Afraid of?”

Oh my son,

Where to even begin?

A litany ran through my head

Starting with the ones that had

Awoken me at two o’clock

That very morning:

First Boy,

Getting hit by a car.

Baby Boy

Choking on a piece of food.

Or vice versa:

Getting a call from school that

First Boy

Had choked on a carrot at

Lunch, or

Baby Boy darting out into traffic and getting

Spun

By the fender of a car.

(I can envision it in

Precise

Detail

In my mind,

Watching his perfect blonde head

Explode red

And our lives in that instant

Deformed

Into something I cannot imagine.)

A car accident (Joe).

A bike accident (me).

Paralysis, long-term illness, loss of limb, sudden death of any of our

Many loved ones.

Just pull out the

Fine print section of any

Life insurance policy,

And you’ve got a good idea of the

Possibilities I can

Give space to in my

Mind

When I’m in that kind of mood.

And that’s just the

Base

Instinctive

Type of fear.

There’s still the ego-fears to cover:

Job loss.

Loneliness.

Relapse.

Obscurity.

Poverty.

And oh yeah:

Sharks.

First Boy was watching me.

He wanted an answer.

What was he thinking?

Ghosts?

Robbers?

Thunderstorms?

Darth Vader?

“I think the thing I’m

Most afraid of is

Something bad happening to you

Or Baby Boy,” I said.

First Boy considered this for a moment.

“Like us getting hurt

Or something?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Then I perked up at the

Chance to impart some

One-day-at-a-time,

Power-Of-Now

Wisdom to my

First-born,

Thus:

“But you know what

Grandpa once told me

When you were born,

And I told him

I couldn’t believe how much

I loved you,

And I didn’t know

What I would do

If something bad ever happened to you?”

“What?” said my First Boy.

“He said all you can do is

Be grateful,

At the end of the day

When everyone you love is

Tucked in bed,

That everyone was

Safe and healthy

On that day.

‘Cause you can’t do

Anything

About tomorrow.”

My First Boy

Stared off into the

Middle distance,

Frowning.

Pondering the

Metaphysical wisdom just

Bestowed on him

Through the generations?

Or wondering if

They were serving

Chicken nuggets

For lunch at school

That day?

I’ll never know.

The bus pulled up

Just then and

My First Boy

Got on without responding to

What I’d said.

“Have a good day,

Buddy.

Love you.”

“Love you, too,”

He said over his shoulder.

Fear and attraction: women friends

photo credit honestlywtf.com

photo credit honestlywtf.com

I romanticize a time

And a place

When women would

Work together in the

Fields, or at the river,

Partaking in each other’s births,

Deaths,

And all the mundane living in between.

I’ve had short stints of

Intensive

Female relationships:

Situations in which

Friendships with

Women

Flourish as a

Product of

Prescribed activities

Like high school.

Or communal living

Like college dorms and

Roommate scenarios.

I wish I had

Relished

Those delicious,

Hilarious moments of

Living with women

Instead of

Longing for the

Boy to

Call me back.

I didn’t realize at the time that

The majority of my

Adulthood I would spend in a marriage,

Making those girl-centered times

Rarefied and fleeting.

Mobility.

Has stretched thin some

Critical friendships over the years.

A sister-friend moves away,

Or I move away from her,

And am petulant that things

Can’t stay the same.

And yet,

Making new friends feels like

Dating:

A careful,

Choreographed dance of

Nonchalance and

Attraction.

I’m wary of drama;

Done that,

Don’t have the appetite–

Or time–

To do it anymore.

I say that,

But the truth is,

I hide from you

Behind my husband

And kids.

They can take up

All my time if I let them.

And they need me

(Supposedly).

I envy my single friends

For their investments in their

Women friends.

(While they probably

Envy me my

Husband and kids.)

I admire how men

Seem to form friendships

Around activities:

To be blatantly stereotypical,

–Or use my husband

As an example

–It’s sports or

Music or

Spiritual interests.

They do stuff together.

It looks so fun.

While I text women for coffee,

Which really does feel like a

Date.

The fact is

My friendships

Change.

Sometimes they end

But not often,

Thank God.

When they have,

It’s been with pain

Just as traumatic as any

Romantic break-up

I’ve endured.

Maybe even more.

Change,

Not dissolution.

That I can be peaceful with.

I was in an art museum once,

Alone in a gallery

(That’s how this

Introvert likes to roll

At art museums:

In solitude.)

I was examining this tapestry of

Colors and

Pictures

That was so vivid,

It gave the illusion that the

Bits that made it up were

Moving and

Growing and shrinking.

Two young women

Came into the room;

They were lovely–

I think it was somewhere in Europe.

They were laughing together,

Clearly close friends,

Or so it seemed to this outsider.

They passed by and

One of them

Smiled at me.

I looked back at the

Tapestry and saw it as a

Metaphor for all the

Women friends I’ve had over the years.

Dynamic,

The sizes of individual

Pieces growing and shrinking.

And It’s okay for one friend’s tie to

Stretch across time zones

And even oceans,

And another friend’s tie to

Pull her closer,

To my neighborhood

Or my church

Or my 12-step meeting.

It’s okay.

It’s supposed to do that.

For my part,

Friendships don’t end.

They evolve.

Even if you move away,

Even if we don’t talk for months or

Years,

Even if we never speak again,

I am still your friend

And will love you from a distance

As well as I am able.

And for you whose faces I can set eyes on

Regularly,

It’s up to me to

Stop hiding out.

Modernity has put up some walls,

But I can have as much

Female community

As I want

If I’m willing to

Get out of my house

And myself

And find it.

Find you.

Lessons from a divorce five years out

-1

My first husband and our son about a year before we got divorced.

I was talking to a friend

The other day

Who is going through a divorce.

One of a few friends

Going through it right now.

She had the shell-shocked look

I remember from my mirror six years ago.

“This is so

Fucking hard,”

She said.

“It’s

So

Hard.”

I nodded

And nodded,

And could relate:

The hopelessness leading up to

The decision.

Then finally the decision is made and

There’s relief.

But now the process to

Wade through.

I listened to her grapple with

Her partner

Behaving with inexplicable

Cruelty.

The things that are said,

Unprintable even in my

Immodest blog.

Fear masked as anger,

Contempt,

Indignation.

You were partners in

Instinctive survival:

Food,

Shelter,

Sex,

Provisions,

Parenting.

And now it feels like

This person is threatening your

Ability to survive and thrive.

S/he wants to take your money,

Your time with your kids,

Your home.

Both of your survival instincts are flared

And pitted against one another’s.

Even the most amicable divorce

Requires concessions that,

By their very nature,

Feel cruelly unfair.

My biggest fear was that the

Pain

Would last forever.

The pain that was so much more

Complicated

Than just

Getting dumped,

Or breaking the news to the kids,

Which is how I’d conceived of divorce

Until I went through it.

It was a dense and many-layered pain that,

At its peak,

Felt like it might be a major part of me

For the rest of my life.

But here’s my miracle:

Today I had a phone chat with my

Son’s dad

That wasn’t just civil

Or even friendly,

But was truly affectionate.

And the other day I stood on my

Front porch and chatted with

My husband’s ex-wife and

Her new boyfriend and

Was

Truly

Happy

For her and

Hopeful for her future and

Unattached to what it all

Means for me.

My husband came home the other night

From meeting with his ex-wife to

Discuss some weighty matters

About their kids.

And the conversation,

As he recounted it to me,

Was so

Reasonable and

Productive,

I got choked up listening to it,

Observing how this

Relationship between

My husband and

His ex-wife has

Grown since I’ve known them.

It’s not all perfect.

There are still difficult decisions ahead.

But I cannot tell you how

Grateful

I am to

Get along with both ex-spouses in our family’s life.

It is a truly

Stunning evolution.

How has it all come about,

This friendliness?

After fucking things up good

And learning hard lessons from it:

I learned to make concessions to

Simply keep the peace with my ex-husband.

I sensed it was better for my son

For me to let him go for periods of time

Than to fight to keep him all the time.

That meant I was physically separated from him for

About six months

On three occasions.

And now he spends summers with his dad.

As of this writing,

I haven’t hugged or touched

My 7-year-old boy

For about 50 days.

Yep.

I miss out on events in his life.

But I saw not fighting over my son

As a loving act,

Although to the outside it might look–

Well, who fucking cares

How it looks?

Also, I don’t care about fairness anymore.

There is no truly fair outcome of a

Divorce,

Especially with kids.

Everyone gets screwed.

If you pay child support,

It feels like too much.

It you receive child support,

It feels like too little.

The schedule is never quite right.

You might have to spend

Mother’s Day alone–

I did for three years in a row.

My ex-husband hasn’t had his

Son on Father’s Day since 2007.

Completely unfair.

I got used to it,

And then saw the weird beauty of

This little life lesson

Which has served me well in

Other parts of my life.

We can try for fair–

We do try for fair.

But we never truly achieve it.

These days, I prioritize my relationship with my

Son’s dad and

My husband’s ex-wife.

We try to do small things

To keep it friendly between us.

Little actions to build good will have

Countered any ill-will we once had,

And then some.

Besides which,

I truly care about both of them.

Honestly,

My friendly relationship with my ex-husband

And his family

Is one of the proudest achievements of my life.

And it’s not just about our son.

It’s about my ex and me, too.

It works for us to have an

Affectionate relationship that

Doesn’t revolve around our son at

Every moment of every conversation.

Time doesn’t heal all,

But it does help a hell of a lot.

I’ve heard bitter tirades from

Parents of grown children,

Divorced decades ago.

So obviously time isn’t a panacea.

But time is important.

When I look back

Six or seven years to the middle of the divorce

And right afterward,

My imagination was limited

As to what my life might look like,

Or what my ex’s might look like.

It felt like we would be

Forever tightly linked in this

Shitty,

Cruel

Web of mutual distrust and

Animosity.

But today,

I’m free.

As I was standing talking to my friend

About her impending divorce,

I was noticing how physically

Tall and

Strong I felt.

Loose-limbed and agile.

Healthy.

I said to her that

It was the hardest thing I’ve

Ever been through

In my life

By far.

But I wouldn’t go back and

Change anything.