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.

A summer break from homework–for me

photoBeginning of summer

And my First Boy

Has been gone for a week to his

Dad’s overseas.

It was a hard school year

For both of us.

My First Boy with his

Two languages

Needs extra help with school.

And as his first grade year wore on

Through the interminable winter,

I slowly realized that

I will need to

Work

Hard

With him.

Not just on his regular homework

(Which there was kind of a lot of

For first grade, IMO)

But on all the

Extra resources his

Excellent teachers provide us.

I have to admit it:

At first, I

Dreaded

Helping him with his

Homework.

Sitting together at the dining room table,

Me thinking of all the

Stuff I needed to get done,

Him squirming around and

Saying he had to

Go to the bathroom

Halfway through his

Spelling sheet,

Taking his glasses off and on,

Doodling his letters instead of

Writing them nicely.

Some days,

It felt like he wasn’t trying very hard,

And we’d get half done and I’d say,

“Just forget it. We’ll stop here.”

Because I was

About to

Lose

My

Shit.

And as I came to see that,

For him,

Homework won’t mean a quick

15-minute easy exercise after dinner,

But rather at least an hour of

Intensive

Teaching

On my part,

I felt  sort of

Panic.

Yet another part of

Parenting I was

Wholly unprepared for.

Not only must I provide for his

Physical needs and be his

Moral and spiritual guide,

But I’m also supposed to be one of his

Academic teachers.

I

Didn’t

Know.

It wasn’t that way for me

Growing up,

That I remember.

Which is ironic since my

Parents were both

Teachers by profession.

I honestly don’t remember

One instance of my

Parents sitting at the table,

Helping me with my homework.

So if I was using them as my model,

I had

No

Idea.

Like so many parenting skills

With my oldest,

Though,

I feel I’ve learned to

Give him what he needs

Just in the nick of time.

I had an epiphany one day that

I cannot

Dread

Helping him with his homework.

Because not only do I have a

Good decade to go with my

First Boy,

But my Baby Boy is only one.

I’ve got nearly

Two decades of this

In front of me.

I have to find a way to make it a

Pleasant and even

Meaningful experience for

Both of us.

I had to send out a call to the

Powers That Be

For this one.

I asked for patience and

Strength.

And as usual,

I was given what I needed,

And what he needed.

A new perspective.

A fresh way of seeing a situation that

Hadn’t even changed.

I saw that my First Boy

Actually thrives

When I teach him.

That he basks in my

Undivided attention.

That though he’s struggling,

He’s not frustrated,

He keeps trying.

That when he succeeds and I

Get to praise him,

He practically glows.

(Quietly, with an

Embarrassed grin.)

I see that this is

Precious time

That I will look back on

With pride in us:

Mom and

First Boy,

Working together

For him.

I was ready for a break, though.

Ready to turn his

Education over to his

Finnish family

For the summer, and I know they’ll

Work hard with him, too.

Meanwhile, I’ll gather my

Strength for

Second grade;

Work on my own projects,

And in August,

Start putting together

Homework schedules and

Practice schedules.

Schedule my life around

His needs

As much as I am able.

God, that’s still so

Hard for me to do.

But I know,

I know

It’s worth it.

Happy Mother’s Day! I think I’m done having kids

547751_10151367700569149_189076974_nI think

I’m not having any more children.

We’ve talked,

Joe and I.

I brought it up.

“What do you think about

One more baby?”

“Aw, babe,” he said.

“I just don’t think I can.”

His reasons were sound:

We already have

Four kids.

Let’s just focus on the

Ones we have.

Let’s give them all our attention.

(And all our finite financial resources.)

I tried to wage an argument,

But I wasn’t enthusiastic.

The truth was,

I kind of wanted him to

Talk me

Out of it.

So now,

It’s a matter of

Getting used to the idea

That this is it:

My family.

A couple divorcees with an

Assortment of kids:

Siblings,

Step-siblings,

Half-siblings.

We have ’em all.

Somehow I’d thought that

Just

One

More–

Especially if it was a girl–

Would even everything out.

Make it tidy.

There’d be the two older kids–

Full siblings to each other–

Then two younger full siblings–

Then my son in the middle.

The girls would bookend the assortment.

A fifth child to

Tie it all up

In a neat,

Pink

Bow.

Our family has felt like a

Work in progress for

So long.

It’s hard to imagine

That we’re

Finished adding to it.

But I held a newborn baby in my arms

Last week

And felt none of the

Longing

To have my own.

The boxes of maternity clothes in the

Basement that

I was hanging onto

Just in case

I’ve promised to a

Pregnant friend

(Whom I feel no envy toward in the least).

My two sons were

Screaming with laughter in the shower

Together

Last night.

They’re the only ones

I’ll physically bear

It would seem.

My first boy and

My baby boy,

I call them.

It seems a shame to

Retire the ol’ reproductives when they

Still have something in them.

But then again,

It’s nice to think of

Having myself to

Myself

Again

Forever.

Never again the

Intrinsic sharing of

Resources and

Energy of a pregnancy

Or breastfeeding.

And our family?

Definitely untidy.

Three last names

You will spell wrong

If I don’t spell them

Very slowly

For you over the phone.

Pictures reflect our

Mish-mash schedules.

Different combinations of kids

Depending on who is around that weekend.

When we go to bed at night,

I have to think for a minute:

If there was a fire,

How many kids are home

To rescue from the flames?

One?

Two?

Three?

Four?

It could be any of those numbers.

And the different

Mothering

I do to them all.

I’m a different person to each of them

Depending on their needs.

When I think of being a

Mom and a

Step-mom,

The first word I think of is

Fun.

It really is just a

Hell of a lot of fun.

Not every moment,

But there is much to be amused about.

Much to laugh at.

Yep,

It’s hard.

But it’s gotten easier over the years.

I’m grateful for my

Four kids.

They are each divine in their

Own ways,

And they each teach me about the

Divine in me.

An open letter to Sheryl Sandberg

SandbergDear Sheryl,

I have to admit,

I was

At first

Irritated by the whole

Fact

Of your book:

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Here you are,

An obscenely rich,

Harvard-educated executive,

Presumably employing

Nannies and

House cleaners,

Telling me I need to

Work harder to become

Part of your

Rarefied circle of

Multi-millionaire

Stock-optioned

Chief executives.

I thought,

“Fuck.

I don’t want to think about this.”

I know,

I know.

A woman gets paid three-quarters what a man earns.

Women still do

Twice as much

Housework and

Childrearing duties as men

Even while working the

Same number of

Hours.

Women make up only a fraction of the

Highest-paid

Most powerful people in

Business and government.

I know.

But I’m too busy

Working my job,

Making my living,

Raising my children and

Dealing with my house

To worry about this

Big picture stuff,

Okay?

And Sheryl,

What does

“Lean In” mean

Anyway?

Lean in to listen to

You

Hold forth on how

All of us

Wives,

Mothers and

Workers should

Somehow get our husbands to do

50% of the housework and

Childrearing duties?

How?

They already think they do!

So I got out by myself for a walk recently,

And I was swiping through the

Public radio podcasts,

And there you were,

An hour-long interview with my favorite

Public radio host.

Oh Jesus Christ,

I thought.

Fine.

Let’s hear what you have to say.

And I listened to you talk about

The statistics:

Yep.

Only 20 of the Fortune 500 companies are

Run by women.

Yep.

Women still make only $0.77 to the male dollar.

Yep.

Women only make up 20% of Congress, and obviously,

Have never held the most important position in the world:

President of the U.S.

(“Why can’t girls be president?”

My son asked me,

Dishearteningly,

Just the other day.)

And it matters,

You said.

It does matter.

Because decision-makers

Make decisions

Based on what they know.

And we still have

Men

Making most of the decisions for us

About policy in

Government and in our

Workplaces.

And those men

Just don’t know.

They

Don’t

Know.

They don’t know how

Laughable

An eight- to twelve-week

Maternity leave is because

They

Can’t

Have

Babies.

And the argument is,

I guess,

That we’ll have eight- to twelve-week

Maternity leaves

(Mostly unpaid, BTW)

Until we get some decision-makers who’ve

Had a

Baby.

Okay Sheryl,

You know what?

You might be right.

Maybe it does matter.

This uneasy truce I’ve had with

The world as it is

Is based on the fact that,

For the most part,

I haven’t experienced a lot of

Overt

Discrimination–

Or so I tell myself.

I think I’m doing pretty well for myself.

My job pays decently–

Indeed, I make more than my husband.

It’s flexible,

Work from home, flex-time, etc.

My husband and I both think

We do more than half the

Housework and childrearing–

Or so our arguments would have you think.

Things are fine for

Me.

But you know what Sheryl?

I think you’re right.

It’s not just wages and power positioning that have

Stagnated.

It’s my imagination for

What’s possible.

I’ve stagnated into thinking that

Because my life is

Reasonably manageable,

Everyone else’s must be, too.

(But the statistics don’t bear that out.)

And I tell myself:

Maybe a 12-week maternity leave

Is enough.

Maybe it’s okay that women don’t

Make as much as men.

Money isn’t everything.

But those are lies

I’ve been telling myself.

So as I’m writing this,

I look at my husband across the room,

Playing his guitar,

Absorbed in his task,

Oblivious to his wife

Seething with gender injustice

A few feet away.

And I know he’s not the enemy.

He’s not trying to

Keep me down.

Out of the 3 billion men

In the world

Wielding outsized power over

Women,

He’s the one I have to

Sleep next to every night.

I can’t go to war with him, Sheryl.

And I know that’s not

What you’re asking me to do.

But that’s the old

Model I have in my

Head.

I sense that it starts in the house,

For me anyway.

It’s not just money–

It’s time, too.

Time and energy.

So I’ll reflect,

Sheryl.

You’ve given me something to

Think about.

And I’ll buy your book.

Not that you need the money for it.

Life happens to kids, too

photo-56Maybe I’m just trying to soothe my

Anxiety

Over the decisions I’ve made.

But I was cheered by a radio program

On which a

Child psychologist argued that

Some adversity

Is good for kids.

They learn resilience and

Independence from having some

Challenges,

And we don’t do them any favors by

Protecting them from life’s trials.

“They are hard-wired for adversity,” she said,

“As long as they are loved and supported through it.”

I thought of Victor

At the airport,

The scene and symbol of his own

Difficulties.

He was leaving for the summer

To be with his dad.

He didn’t want to go.

In the security line,

Tears were leaking out his eyes and

He hid his face in my stomach.

No wailing,

No tantrum,

Just quietly in my ear when I knelt down next to him,

“I don’t wanna go,

Mommy.”

But he had to go.

And he knew it.

Kneeling down,

So my face was at his level,

I saw him prepare himself.

Widening and then blinking his eyes to stop the tears,

Looking off toward security,

Where he was going.

Not looking at me.

Closing his mouth into a

Straight, grim line.

Ready to go.

Six years old!

I was proud of him.

And you know what?

I’m grateful he has this experience.

A special challenge,

His own journey.

The urge is to protect him from these

Difficult

Adult

Situations.

But life happens to kids, too.

And I think these

Plane rides and

Doing what he doesn’t want to do,

Will help him be resilient,

Adaptable,

Flexible.

As long as he receives

Lots of love on

Either side of the ocean,

I think this trial will be part of his

Character,

Not part of his problem.

A few things I’ve learned in the year since my mother died

photo-54

The anniversary of Mom’s death is Wednesday

But I have the day off today,

So I went down to the cemetery.

I always feel the urge to

Bring something

To put on her grave;

It feels wrong somehow

To show up empty-handed.

I usually stop by the

SuperAmerica on the way and buy a

$3.50 single rose in a plastic tube, which I remove.

But the rise her grave is on is

So windy

The petals get stripped off

As soon as I place the flower on the ground.

So I decided to take the Christmas wreath

Off our front door and

Bring that instead.

But as I was taking it down,

And saw how dried out it was,

How the fronds broke off at the slightest touch,

I felt like I was just

Dumping our left-over Christmas decorations on her.

Doesn’t she deserve something new?

Is it okay to bring a dried-out

Six-week-old Christmas wreath as an offering

To a grave?

I don’t know.

I haven’t figured this out,

This grieving business.

I drive into the cemetery and am

Relieved to see the

Hundreds of Christmas wreaths,

From a distance as uniform as the military graves they adorn.

Dried out now,

They are army green with

Flashes of red ribbon.

I lean my wreath against her gravestone

And stand there for a few minutes.

I never feel much at the cemetery,

And never know what to do.

It’s so windy, and this time of year,

Bitterly cold.

I have to pee.

Should I talk to her?

Tell her everything that’s happened in the past year?

Rocky being born,

Victor getting glasses,

Me starting another novel.

It feels unnecessary.

I think if she knows things,

If she’s aware of facts about our lives,

She knows.

I don’t need to come to the

Cemetery to inform her.

How long is the right amount of time to stand here?

Should I pray?

God, it’s cold.

I hope the bathrooms are unlocked.

——————————————-

I remember one day,

After Mom had

Retired.

It was a couple years into her

Illness.

We were still calling it

“Mild cognitive impairment”

To spare her feelings

Although it was

Clearly

More than that.

One thing she loved to do was

Go get mani/pedis.

And on this day,

A hot summer day

With a clarifying blue sky,

I was in the front yard as she

Backed the car out of the driveway,

And as she put the car into drive

And drove away,

She waved out the window:

One flip of her hand,

Delighted to be

Retired,

And going to get a

Mani/pedi on a

Lovely summer day.

She was driving the

Silver Camry which

I would inherit just a

Few months later.

Standing on the

Hot, crispy lawn,

Watching her drive away—

It was the last time I saw her drive—

I thought,

Yes.

That’s what her retirement should’ve been like.

A carefree little jaunt to the

Mani/pedi parlor.

She deserved that kind of retirement.

So lesson No. 1:

People don’t get what they deserve.

Lesson No. 2:

Everyone identifies with a

Parent dying.

‘Cause we all have ‘em.

And people have either

Experienced the death of one or both,

Or know they likely will someday.

Lesson No. 3: It’s possible to

Have a relationship with

Someone who is dead.

Someone told me this, right after she died:

“You might not grasp what this means right now,

But you’ll get to know your

Mother in a new way

Now that she’s gone.”

I have this little brown teddy bear

My mother grasped as she was dying—

I pulled it out of her hands

After she had died—

And I have it sitting

Among my talismans and

Candles on my
Writing alter.

It’s a reminder to me to

Be kind to myself—

To take it easy—

The way my mother would’ve wanted me to.

I see now that she

Loved me with a

Perfect love and

Wants me to love myself as

Unconditionally as she loved me.

Lesson No. 4:

It’s possible to feel sadness and joy at the same time;

They are not mutually exclusive.

At the same time that

I feel grief that she is gone,

I feel gratitude that

I have her for a mom,

And relief that the ordeal of her illness is over.

Gonna write another novel

photo-46I’m going to write another novel.

I surprise myself by

Saying it/

Writing it

Out loud.

There’s a certain hubris to saying

I’m going to do something like that,

Like saying I’m going to

Run a marathon

Before I’ve gone out for my first jog.

In fact,

They are not dissimilar,

Writing novels and training for marathons.

I’ve never run a marathon,

But from what I understand,

It’s a lot of

Inglorious training:

Getting up early in the dark

When everyone else is still asleep.

Sacrifices and trade-offs made.

Can’t stay up to watch

Sunday night football.

Gotta get to bed early,

Get up early for my

Morning training.

I feel okay telling you

I’m going to write a novel because

I’ve done it before.

Twice, actually.

(Both unpublished!)

So I know I can do it.

I think it would be possible to

Write one or two novels,

And run one or two marathons

With your eye on the result,

Yet hating the day-to-day training.

Bumbling out of bed,

Dreading the blank page or the

Cold concrete.

And making yourself do it

Anyway.

Because it’s one of your life goals:

To write a novel,

Or run a marathon.

But to keep doing it

Year after year,

Marathon after marathon,

Novel after novel,

You’d have to figure out

How to enjoy the daily training.

To not dread it.

To go to sleep at (8:00 at) night

Looking forward to your alarm going off at

4:00 a.m.

Because you’ve built your

Life around this

Hobby,

This passion.

Because you love it.

You love not just

Completing the marathon (the novel)

Or even the daily training exercise.

You love the daily training

Itself.

My first two novels

Were so willful.

I was so fixated on the result of

Having Written A Novel,

That I dreaded the practice of writing.

“I hate writing;

I love having written,”

Said one famous author.

But that’s not sustainable.

What’s the point?

It’s very possible I

Won’t make a cent on my novels,

That they’ll get rave reviews from

Close friends and family,

And that’s it.

They might completely suck.

It’s a hobby,

And a pretty demanding one,

So I’d better enjoy it.

It’s taken

Years

For me to learn how to enjoy a

4:00 a.m. writing session.

Mornings are best

Because I don’t have

Time to talk myself out of it.

Alarm goes off at 4:02 a.m.,

No snooze,

No thinking,

Just up.

(That’s the name of my alarm:

“Up.”)

Creep around the bedroom with my

Flashlight app,

Pulling on my training clothes–

Running shoes because

I write standing up.

Downstairs in the dining room,

I set up my writer’s space.

Virginia Wolff was wrong.

A woman does not need

Money

And a room of her own

To write fiction.

The dining room table is my desk.

In the still-dark early morning,

I fill it up with candles, talismans and tchotchkes.

I provide myself tiny comforts:

Hot tea,

My cozy red bathrobe,

Thermostat set at a decadent 72 degrees,

Thelonious Monk or Miles Davis on Pandora.

It takes patience

To settle into the

Experience

Of the daily practice of writing.

And strangely enough,

It’s the disappointments

(Two novels, not even published let alone

Best-sellers)

And a little suffering

(Drunkenness and then the bracing sobriety journey)

That have given me this

Patience gift.

Writing novels takes the ability to both

Be in the moment,

And have the long view.

I can sustain both best in the early morning quiet

Of my candle-lit dining room,

My family sleeping around me.

In the soundtrack to my life,

This scene of me starting to write novels again

Would be set to

“Fire On The Mountain,”

Grateful Dead:

Long distance runner, what you holdin’ out for?
Caught in slow motion in a dash for the door.
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you had. Why you wanna give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can’t fake.

Fire! Fire on the mountain!

Just another liberal on the bus

One day last summer

I wanted to take my infant son to a festival and

Since my husband had the car that day,

I decided we would ride the city bus.

My son was in his stroller–

The kind where you clip the car seat in–

And his huge diaper bag was stuffed into the undercarriage,

And my purse was swinging from the handlebar.

Like any infant/parent duo out for an afternoon,

We had as much

Equipment as we had

Pounds in our two bodies.

Now,

My experience with public transportation is

Informed by the five years I lived in

Scandinavia

Where parents and kids in strollers

Ride for free,

Where if you’re getting on a train or tram with stairs,

Strangers will pick up the front of your pram without a word

And help you and your kid on board,

Where other riders will

Uncomplainingly

Make way for you and your stroller.

It felt like

We were all in this together.

Everyone invested in raising these kids–

Even those who didn’t have kids–

A value exemplified by the

Public transportation system:

Institutionally, with the free fare;

And culturally, with the unspoken agreement that

Someone will help you

Get your pram

On the damn bus.

So as I was pushing my

Stroller system to the bus stop,

I got a sinking feeling:

I’d ridden the bus plenty as a commuter,

And I’d seen that

Wheelchair elevator thing they have,

But I’d never seen a stroller on one…

Sure enough,

The bus pulled up to the stop and the doors opened,

And the bus driver looked down at me and my

Grapes of Wrath-esque stroller system and said,

Skeptically,

“You’re gonna have to fold up that

Stroller to get it on here.”

I looked up at her,

Starting to panic as I

Envisioned how I would

Sherpa a

Folded-up stroller,

Car seat,

Diaper bag,

Purse, and

Oh yeah,

The baby

Onto the bus

In one load

With no help.

Reader,

I lied.

“My son has a head injury and the

Doctor said

We can’t move him.

He has to stay in his stroller.

I can’t take him out.”

The bus driver looked at us for a minute,

Then pushed the button, and the

Elevator contraption

Beeped its way down to the ground for us.

I crammed us onto the thing

Diagonally–

It’s not meant to have someone standing behind the

Wheelchair–

And we got on the bus.

Not only did people

Not make way for us,

But they glared at me.

Annoyed that I was making the bus run behind schedule,

And probably seeing through my bullshit line.

The whole bus ride,

I fumed.

How is it

Safer to have a

Folded up stroller and a

Loose infant rolling around the

Inside of a

Moving bus than a

Stroller locked in place with a brake system

And the infant buckled inside?

It seemed designed to actually

Discourage

Parents from using public transportation.

As I steamed,

I made this into an

Example in my mind

Of everything that’s wrong with our country,

Of an individualism that borders on

Absurdity.

It’s your kid.

You decided to have him.

You decided to ride the bus.

You get him on board yourself.

You don’t want to ride the bus with  your kid?

Then get a job

And get a car.

Oh, and by the way,

Same goes for his health insurance.

But all of a sudden–

Maybe it was the evil eyes boring into the back of my head

From the ridership sitting behind me–

I could see myself like I think

The

Other side

Might see me.

The assumptions I was making,

The language I was using in my mind.

Wow.

I did sound entitled.

(I even lied to get my way,

Which is another whole issue.)

I’ve been given the gift

In recent years,

Of having

Politically conservative

Friends.

And though we don’t talk much about politics,

I can see from the way they live their lives

What they mean about

Personal responsibility.

They see a problem,

And I see the same problem

And we see different

Reasons for that problem,

And we have different ideas for

Solutions to the problem.

I can look into their eyes and

See that they’re not

Evil or

Mean or

Vindictive.

My problem–

And it is

My problem–

Is when it’s a whole

Half a country of them,

And they become faceless,

And I don’t get to look into their eyes

And see that their motivations are true.

It hurts.

It hurts me to feel so

Disconnected from seemingly

Half my countrymen and women.

(It felt like

The bus was

Full of them

That day.)

But all I can look at is myself.

My assumptions.

My senses of entitlement.

My distrust of

The other side.

Where does it come from?

It doesn’t even matter.

I’m pretty sure that

Any of my conservative friends would’ve helped me

Carry my stroller off the bus–

Though they might not have thought I should have

Free fare–

And maybe that’s a start.

Back to work after maternity leave

So get this:

You,

As an unfertilized egg,

Developed inside your mother’s ovaries

When she was an embryo

Growing inside

Your grandmother’s womb.

Hence,

You,

Or the ovum that later became you,

First budded to life inside

Your grandmother’s body.

When Rocky and Victor were born,

I could look at their

Smashed red faces–

Perfect to me–

And know what people meant

When they said a

Baby has an

Old soul.

It was more than just the

Wizened old-man wrinkles and

Tired eyes from

Months squeezed into the amniotic sac.

It was how they knew

Just what to do:

Root for milk;

Cry for attention;

Burrow into my chest for a nap.

The way they knew

Just how to make me love them–

It felt altogether too knowing and

Sophisticated for someone just a few

Minutes old.

You’ve done this before,

I thought.

And in the fever of the first

Maternal pangs:

“Please, don’t ever, ever die,”

A glimmer of hope:

Maybe they have had lives before,

And maybe they’ll have lives after.

Maybe there’s a chance of

Immortality

For these precious creatures.

And now,

Scientific validation:

Maybe not immortal,

But at least an extra 30-odd years.

Since the two bitty ova that became

Victor and Rocky

Grew inside my fetal body

Back in 1974-75,

They were along for the ride,

Inside my mom for

Nine-plus months.

A comfort,

Since Rocky never got to meet my mom

Who died in January when I was

Five months pregnant.

And I,

In fact,

Date all the way back to 1942-43,

While my mother gestated inside my

Grandmother.

Makes me feel somehow wiser.

A part of me existed during World War II.

Thus, perhaps,

My penchant for

Third Reich documentaries on Netflix.

I love this shit.

These bits of biological trivia that

Expand my sense of the

Miraculous in life.

Yet another point to marvel on

As I gaze on my boys,

Stunned by a ferocious love

I did not know I was capable of.

My intention with this blog post

Was to somehow tie this back to

Going

Back to

Work after

Maternity leave.

A counterpoint to the

Bummer of it all.

See,

It’s not that I want to be a

Stay at home mom

(A SAHM, for those who don’t

Read mommy blogs.)

Or actually,

Here’s what I want:

I want to be both a

SAHM

And

Have a fulfilling full-time

Career

At the same time.

I want both

Simultaneously.

Not at different times in my life.

All right now.

I mentioned this impossible

Longing to a friend,

And he responded,

“You should be able to have both.

This world is dumb.”

Agreed.

But like a good mortgage-holder,

I trooped back to work last Monday morning

Wearing the sparkly pink eye shadow I had

Bought to make myself feel better.

(It worked.)

I didn’t cry on the phone to my husband

In the pumping room.

I didn’t cuddle Rocky for too long that first morning,

Making myself late.

I’ve just been

A little crabby and

A little cynical.

Like,

What the hell does anything matter?

There are

Babies

Being born.

Human lives starting.

Anything else can seem a little

Banal when compared to a baby’s

First sweet smile of the day,

Instantly nullifying the

Six times he woke you up the night before.

I’m not ungrateful–

I like my job and my coworkers.

(How much would it suck to

Not.)

“Why am I feeling this way?”

I groaned to my husband.

“Because now you have to

Go back to work for the

Rest of

Your

Life,”

He synthesized.

Ominous,

And true.

Nothing else to look forward to;

Just the long slog to retirement.

(Or another baby?)

I know I’ll pick up steam again.

Start popping vitamin D supplements.

Get back into shape.

Join the world in

Spirit as well as

Body.

It was a precious,

Rarefied time.

My intention was to

Savor every moment of it.

So it kinda sucked when

Some days were rough.

It really did take the

Six weeks

Allotted by the insurance company to

Physically recover from the birth.

I was at the doctor at least

Once a week for

Various unmentionable reasons.

Sometimes had to sleep all day to

Catch up from the night before.

Now that I think about it,

It is kinda nice to be

Back at work.

Beyond those puffy,

Alternative-reality

First weeks,

When getting a minute to

Take a shit feels like the

Big accomplishment for the day,

And my bed,

Old friend,

Has turned against me,

Is no longer the quiet sanctuary of

Rest at the end of the day,

But is instead the scene of a weird sleep continuum,

A never-ending struggle,

Day and night,

Night and day,

To match my circadian rhythms to the

Nonsensical ones of the

Tiny body

Lying next to me,

Banging his feet on the mattress.

So what does this all have to do with

Immortal lives and

Ova that transcend a

Normal human lifetime?

I don’t know.

It’s just a subject to

Ruminate on that

Makes life feel more

Fascinating,

That’s all.

Summers without my boy

It’s not a simple question for me:

“How’s your summer going?”

The answer requires

A deep breath,

A quick assessment of how

Forthcoming

I want to be

With this person.

My six-year-old son

Spends summers with his

Father’s family

In Finland.

This summer,

He’s gone from

June 11 to

Aug. 25.

I’m Minnesotan;

I come alive in the summer.

I emerge from my

Black down coat with

Browned limbs,

Sun-lightened hair,

Tan-lined feet from my sandals.

Smile at strangers whose

Faces are liberated from

Scarves and hoods.

When my son is gone though,

I have to steel myself for summer.

I hate wishing time away—

Especially the rarefied days of

Light and green—

But I can’t help

Counting the summers down.

I’m not

Quite

Myself

When my first-born is not

Physically near.

I can function.

I’m fine;

I’m okay.

But a part of me is

Missing.

I’ve described it like

Temporarily

Losing my left arm,

If you will.

A survivable wound,

But disabling.

You can adapt to the loss,

But it’s obvious nearly every

Hour of

Every day.

Describing it to people,

I put a desperately positive spin on it:

“He has so much fun,” I say.

“The only grandchild.

All the attention on him.

Plenty of time outdoors.

Healthy food.

He always grows a mile.”

“What a great experience,”

People say kindly,

Even enthused for him.

I’ve never felt judged.

Thank you for that.

It’s a fear, I think,

Of many divorced parents.

Being judged for decisions we’ve made

That have given our kids

This

Story.

Yep.

I left.

I did it.

It was me.

And now my son’s story includes

Airports,

Backpacks full of toys, books, drawing material

For the plane.

Ability beyond his years to

Operate the seat-back entertainment system.

And me?

I haven’t bothered with 4th of July fireworks

In years.

I go to bed at 9,

Get up for work the next morning.

Just a day like any other.

To be gotten through.

This summer though.

I feel guilty saying it:

It’s been easier with Rocky,

The new baby.

I don’t have to

Turn off my

Maternal energies like a

Faucet

For 10 weeks.

There’s a small body to

Hold and squeeze,

Chubby cheeks to kiss the

Tears off of.

Joe and I joked,

Before Rocky was born,

We’d have him

All the time.

No one to hand him off to

For the weekend.

I’m glad.

I don’t want to share him.

I want to have access

At all times.

Make all the decisions.

I want to learn to let go

His freshman year of college

Dropping him off the dorm.

Not in security lines in airports.

I would never want Victor to think,

Though,

That Rocky has somehow

Replaced him.

I can’t wait to hold Victor’s

Larger,

Tougher

Body on my lap,

His long legs dangling,

His hands,

Dirty from outside,

Squeezing my fingers.

Rocky takes the edge off,

But Victor’s absence still yawns.

Seven more days until the airport.

Till Victor comes through the

Security doors

With his backpack,

Signaling the end of

Summer,

Finally.