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.

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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.

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 feltĀ  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.