Posted in Fragile Life, Takes a Village

Get Thee to Therapy

Many years ago, an extended family member challenged my passion for therapy, saying that he had no interest in digging up stuff from the past and miring himself in it.

I understood. Therapy was heavy lifting. Men especially seemed afraid of the effort and fierce vulnerability required which is why I introduced my sons to therapy young so that they would have it as part of their toolkit–for health care and wellbeing–like yoga and dentistry, chiropractic and energy work, dance and art and nature, diet and bloodwork.

At the time, I offered the reluctant relative a car metaphor, explaining that therapy was how I kept my windshield clean–so that I could move forward–with a less obstructed view.

“Rather than weighing me down,” I said, “Dealing with the pain of the past frees up space for more joy in the present.”

He nodded, taking this in, but I suspect his past was too weighty and his present not light filled enough to warrant the risk, particularly if he was only considering the benefit to himself.

It’s tricky this living, nourishing both the present and the past, not to mention the future–our own and that of the next generations.

For women, the consideration of the next generation is embodied; they literally live inside us, affected by our minds, moods, emotions and consumption.

I first went to therapy in my mid-twenties after I became a parent for a sibling in crisis. Around the same time, I got involved in Al-Anon, wanting to offer the family I hoped to have, a lighter load than the one I’d received, which was doused in alcoholism, cruelty and neglect.

We all see the same therapist now, myself, my husband and our boys. It’s a bit awkward, today for instance, knowing that my son is (hopefully) talking about the grief I gave him last night and this morning to the woman who has been my most trusted ally since he was born.

Friends, especially couples, doubtful of this therapeutic relationship will ask, “But whose side is she on? Whose story does she believe?”

Alas, I’m not looking for a referee, or someone to point toward who is right and who is wrong, though I would like to amend the adage:

“Do you want to be right or in relationship?”

Because what I most desire for myself (and my loved ones) is to be in “right relationship” with self.

Rather than acting as judge, our therapist bears witness, creating more space between us, as we navigate our shared and individual paths.

When I feel particularly sensitive to the load my sons inherited from me, I sing the song other women passed along as I became a mother:

Posted in Insight, Mother to Crone, Takes a Village

For the children

See the line.

How do we trust a man who capriciously oggles, touches, kisses, grabs, rapes women; a man who has had a string of wives with whom he has been unfaithful; who sexualizes his own children, speaks of his baby daughter’s legs and breasts, says to others–Isn’t she “hot,”–agrees with the radio host that his daughter “is a piece of ass,” claims that he would “date” her if she wasn’t his, and boasts that if his third wife wants another child, it’s fine, because he won’t have anything to do with it anyway, that’s a wife’s job.

How do we trust such a man with children, let alone a country?

How do we have faith in an administration who hides children in windowless warehouses and defends the absence of sleeping accommodations, toothbrushes, toothpaste, showers, soap, towels and dry clothes?

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible,” he says of himself.

Meanwhile, he threatened, demonized & exploited 5 teenage boys, citizens of color, for decades, for a Central Park rape they didn’t commit, writing: BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY–a sentiment echoed by Pat Buchanan who called for the eldest of the five, a 16-year-old, to be “hanged in Central Park,” while the other boys should be “stripped, horsewhipped, and sent to prison.”

And yet, when another woman, #22, comes forth with allegations of rape–against Trump–in a dressing room instead of the park, the bar is already so low (and his privilege so high), that it barely registers.

Psychologists say of infidelity, which I suspect is true of all offense, that once you get close to the line, it’s easier to cross because it’s harder to see.

See the line.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, New Mother, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Mama Fox

mother fox
Your days are numbered as a mother and so you might begin early to ready yourself for its dull-edged ending.

There are, of course, rehearsals built in along the way. Recitals. Practices. Nursing, for one. “Is this the last?” I’d think. “Is this the last time?”

So many holy moments.

Newborn eyes.

Breath like green-apples.

Last fall, in the early weeks of my empty nest, a Robin began building multiple ones along the rafter on our front porch, a fools work, day after day, because most of these nests were untenable on the beam, and tending to so many, she never finished a one, and was she even pregnant in September or had she, like me, gone a bit mad in the loss of her vocation.

When I was a girl of 10, living in Colorado, 2,000 miles from the sea, my soulmate left me, never to return, and I too went a bit mad, searching for her in backyards and under cars and up trees, arriving home with scratches and another cat in my arms who wasn’t my beloved Licorice, she who I’d loved and tended since she was a kitten.

My plan this past year was to empty the house, to lighten everything. “I will not live in a museum of our family,” I said, but what I truly meant was that I couldn’t bear to live inside the emptiness, echoing the absence of the lives once lived here.

What I did instead was the opposite. Each week, I visited the second-hand store stocking my home with odds and ends, dishes and knickknacks and books I still haven’t read.

The year that Licorice left had been my 4th year apart from my grandmother at the sea. We spent the entire summer together, she and I, ahead of that 2,000-mile divide. On the August day that I was due to leave, she had to tear me from her bed. When I returned for a short visit with my family the next summer, I discovered that my she had given all my things to the summer sale at the Yacht Club–including all the stuffed animal “friends” won for me on the boardwalk by my grandfather or uncles or family friends.

I hated her some for that.

All these years later, I suspect the presence of my belongings made my absence too palpable.

Which brings me to the baby foxes which is where every morning delivers me, in this, our third spring with the den just off my writing door (though maybe they’ve always been there, and it’s taken me this long to look with softer, sideways eyes.)

This May was the earliest I’ve ever come across the pups, and last week their eyes were still newborn-like, though in the five days since, they’ve already changed.

In just a few more weeks, they won’t stay put if I come close, or only one or two of the most curious will, and after that the communions will be fewer still, and I’ll wonder each time, “Is this the last? Is this the last? Is this the last?” until that day when the rock outcropping above their den outside my writing door remains vacant, and the only sightings come by chance, at the edge of the field and the woods or passing each other on the driveway after an early morning or evening walk, or being watched from the path behind the shed as I hang the laundry.

By then, I won’t know for sure if it is a pup or a parent I spy.

It was the mother herself who I saw first this spring or I should say: she let me behold her and she remained there on the rock outcropping after the pups scattered, staying still as I photographed her from a distance.

I came across her again over the past weekend when I went looking a little too close for her pups, waking her I suppose from a well-deserved nap, and she lept up, startling me, but she didn’t leave the outcropping, and instead paused at the top while I remained still at the bottom, and we gazed into each other’s eyes, in a soul-drenched moment out of time, reminding me of all those I shared with Licorice as a girl, one with the mysteries of mothering and life.

(Early June 2019)

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Adult Offspring, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Ode to the Youngest, About to Leave…

Grown children leave and come back in a game of cat & mouse with our hearts.

Road trips. Fox love. YouTube clips. Listen to this song. Try this latte, sushi, cookie. ”Hug?” (him)

He came for the Outlets. I came for the Sea. Both of us underemployed, trying to find our way forward, untangled. You go first. “Hold hands?” (me)

From behind sunglasses, he can tell I’m rolling my eyes or maybe it’s the tilt of my head, the jut of my jaw, the language between us so subtle, so fine tuned, as if I’ve said aloud: “You cannot wear them on the beach.” (He leaves his sneakers in the car.)

I was born barefoot beside the sea. He was delivered in the bathroom of the little farmhouse beside the brook at the foot of the mountain.

I’m surprised by his knees beneath the steering wheel, belonging to a man instead of the boy with whom I’m gallivanting in Maine for the day.

“What do you think of this suit?” he asks, of number 4, in slate blue, while I thumb this poem (?) on my phone from the stool I found beside the dressing-rooms.

Immersed like this in distinct pleasures, we have almost forgotten about…”The baby foxes!” which we say at the exact moment over lunch because the day, turned sunny, would find them lounging on the rock outcropping off the back door.

Almost immediately he offers the same consolation that I am about to speak: “It’ll be good for them to have the den to themselves for the day.”

It’s like this with him, 5 years at home alone with us after his older brother went off to school, simpler, sweeter, easier, like it was the first 5 years alone with my firstborn.

You first, I say, silently to my baby now. Let go of me. I’ll be okay. Not right away. But I have a whole lot of life to lead ahead of me too.

And also this:

It’s been a privilege sharing your childhood.

Thank you.

(Early June, 2019)

Posted in Legacy, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

“The Reader will have no idea what it’s about.”


My mother rarely revealed emotion, particularly grief. Anger could be presumed from the sharpening of her eyes or the tightness of her mouth. Joy, from her husky, smoke-filled, lungs. But tears, none at all that I recall, except for once, after the long winter break of my freshman year.

On that January day, I pulled out of the driveway, waving, as she stood on the lawn, a weeping toddler in each hand, and I was certain, almost certain, in the absence of my own, that tears were running down her cheeks too.

Had my departure–the beginning of the long-drawn-out end to her vocation as mother (to which she, with 8 children, and dying young, never arrived)—punctured at long last the defenses around her heart?

If so, I set in motion, a series of reckless acts toward freeing it, that began in the back seat of the mini-van with someone the age of her marriage which was about to implode as my father opened the door and found them together.

He, unlike his soon to be ex-wife, was very expressive, stingy with patience and encouragement, which she had in steady supply, but copious in his offering of disappointment and anger, enthusiasm and expectation, super-sized by gender, birth order, occupation, and societal status.

Such a public ending to his marriage seemed to free him somehow too, not his heart which he’s since guarded with barbed wire and land mines, but his inner toddler, his right to be/do/feel whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, however he wanted.

“Emotional procrastination,” is my youngest son’s latest assessment, likening his grandfather’s developmental delays to his own avoidance of schoolwork, describing it as catch-22 of overwhelm, resistance and accumulation.

I don’t know what gave rise to my parents’ emotional complexities. Theirs was not a time when childhood wounds were tended and restored and shared as I have done with mine. What little I know is that my mother gave up a child in the year before she conceived me while my father dealt with intense emotional swings even in college.

I can’t say they did their best, but they did okay. We’re a great bunch, my younger sisters and I, kind and exceedingly helpful and ladened with our own heartbreak and chemical complexities with which if not our best, we do okay.

As to my parents first born, neither eever worried much about her, something my father has been known to say out loud, “We never had to worry about Kelly.”

When they let go of their love for each other and what came of it—the six of us girls–I took on the worrying for them.

To be fair there were times when my mother expressed concern on my behalf, and this was never shrugged off like it is by many a child or grown child, but treasured as a jewel because it meant that I was visible.

“How is Kelly?” I heard her say to my father, on the afternoon he flew up in the little plane to retrieve me from summer camp unexpectedly. She had actually rushed toward the door when we arrived at my grandmother’s home but I was swept up onto the sofa in the arms of my grandfather.

“How is Kelly?”

I had never much belonged to my mother, absorbed as I was into my father’s family as the first grandchild, aligning myself in heart and mind to her mother-in-law, who was taller and richer and educated and glamorous and expressive and strong.

“How is Kelly?”

That single moment of consideration at 14 and a half in the den of my grandmother’s house combined with my mother’s tears on the lawn as I pulled out of the same driveway 3 years later, might be considered scraps of visibility by some, but of these tiny seeds, whole forests have grown.

This week I find myself becoming edgier and edgier with my baby before he graduates and leaves, and so I stop and ask myself:

“How is Kelly?”

I’m not much one to cry. In fact, after the accident that took my grandmother’s life, I didn’t cry again until the day we lost her home to my parents’ divorce. Menopause helped shift that some as has yoga and meditation and lots and lots and lots of therapy.

“How is Kelly?”

Beneath the angst with my 18 year old, I find grief and fear and confusion around how such an encompassing day-to-day way of being—mother and child–could come so finally to an end.

He came to me in the weeks before my mother died, delivered of a body forced to cry, nursed with milk and tears, and so it’s no surprise that his favorite flower as a boy was the Bleeding Heart and hasn’t he always worn his on his sleeve.

As a gift for turning to face the overwhelm of school work, we took him to the garden store to finally consummate his desire for his own rose plant.

He spent an entire day last weekend applying his engineering skills to the large boulder that he found in the bed into which he would place it. And this morning, as I write, he motions for me to come outside, not only because the baby foxes have reappeared on the rock outcropping beyond my writing door, but because his rose has bloomed.

We went to at least three garden stores, and looked at every plant, until he settled on one, a two-toned blossom with a heart-pink center and creamy petals.

The garden bed itself was built by his older brother on his visits home from school, and on his last stay he put in a new plant that he bought for his love.

And so it is that out my writing window I see roses and bleeding hearts and baby foxes soon to leave the den and isn’t it so.

“I’m sorry I neglected to tell you about its fundamental flaw,” my son says after reading this piece and okaying it for posting. “The reader will have no idea what it’s about.”

(June 7, 2019)

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments

Vacancy

Part of what made them so easy to spot this year is that there are so many–6–while previous years litters were half that size. Of course, now that we expect them to be there, we start looking (and listening) come spring. With 6, the odds are good that at least one will be defending–out loud–her stick, his spot, their sibling resting place–belly, back, head; but if we didn’t know any better, we’d assign these sounds to the return of the birds rustling in the bushes, and, in fact, it isn’t until we first see the pups that we know the sound belongs to them.

Over the course of a month, they’ll mature and begin venturing from the den, becoming increasingly stealthy like their parents, only seen by chance or desire–theirs. In the earliest days, in late May, however, I could almost always come upon them, at least two or three, napping, atop one another, under the ferns at the foot of the rock outcropping above their den just off our back door.

But things are swiftly changing. Their eyes are clearer. They navigate the boulders without tumbling. They use their paws to scratch at the dirt. They explore flowers and sticks and berries with their teeth. They practice foraging which will soon lead them further and further from the den and my open view.

I missed seeing them entirely yesterday. I left early and I wasn’t around during the hours when they are most present on rocks. When I went looking for them in the evening, they must have been out with their parents or tucked in for the night. What is so striking is that there are times when they are so readily available, that I could spend an entire morning or afternoon beside the den watching them or I could return at any hour for another fix of new life.

Other times, like yesterday, the rock outcropping is vacant as if the whole thing was a dream.

The empty nest feels a lot like that as I wander from room to room.

One day last week, in the eerie absence of pups, I got up close to the place where they crawl back into the den between the rocks.

So many times, I wished I could follow them. Or at least, send a camera inside after them.

Theirs is such a contained world. The rock outcropping off our back door is their front porch. The overgrowth of bushes and trees encircling it is like a livingroom. And there’s even a backyard—between our garden path and the woods behind our house.

I imagine it is a sweet place to grow up, particularly safe from other predators given that the den sits just beside this dwelling with 3 welcoming two-footers, and we pass it daily to hang the laundry, to take an outdoor shower, to garden, to get something from the shed.

Once, in a previous year, I watched from my writing desk as my husband walked past the den from the shower to the laundry line completely unaware that the pups were there watching him go by.

Family life, like early summer, has such an expansive and timeless quality to it, which is why I suppose the ending feels like a punch in the gut.

Maybe this explains my abiding affection for the Mother this year, she, who has, two times now, remained still so that I could gaze at her atop the rocks; and didn’t she gaze right back at me, the two of us looking into each other’s eyes for some time.

Well done.

Well, done.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, New Mother

Women’s Work

I never liked showers, never enjoyed dressing up and sitting among dozens of women, eating white cake with white-icing and crudite with ranch dressing, while the bride or the expectant mother unwrapped box after box of ribboned boxes.

I never understood why onesies and kitchen gadgets were the domain of women, and I resented the absence of men among the suffering.

When I think back I can’t recall my own bridal shower, but I do remember the engagement party that we hosted together because it was multi-aged and co-ed, and held outside at the park.

Oh wait, here’s a memory…

I see my dear friend and her mother at a table in a restaurant above the bay.

I had thought that was someone else’s shower, but there is also a box of two elegant champagne glasses on my lap with these simple words on the card:

You bring my son joy.

After her son and I relocated to Vermont, and became parents to our first born–for whom there were several showers–one back at the shore (just women), one at his work (co-ed), one at our neighbor’s (co-ed) and one among our Al-Anon friends after the birth (also co-ed)–I discovered another tradition among women that I had never experienced before, one which was much more practical and soulful.

A BLESSINGWAY.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was desperate to have one myself–this circle of women gathering to prepare a mother for the journey that lie ahead– labor, delivery, nursing and nurturing.

I set mine a month ahead of my due date, not so that I would look better in the photos (like many do with baby showers) but because I was afraid that I might miss the opportunity if this baby came early. (Both sons did.)

I have a scrapbook of my first and only Blessingway. It is still a touchstone for courage and vulnerability, soul and manifestation. In it, are the words that women wrote to me about the journey, some I know by heart.

My boys are now men, the youngest about to graduate highschool (we hope), and it is the impact of his academic and personal struggles, like those of his older brother’s when he was a teen, which have offered opportunities for our marriage to grow (or sour), ie. putting us through the ringer, forcing us to revisit unfinished pasts, and to determine how we wanted to move forward, which bring to mind this morning the words on the card which I glued onto one of the very last pages of the Blessingway scrapbook long before I knew what they could mean: