Posted in Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Parental Adolescence

Releasing the Role of a Lifetime

To whom are we beautiful as we go?

~David Ignatow

Ganga Cookies, First Ever, Parental Adolescence

There was an article (or maybe a meme) that coined a new adolescence–for sixty-year olds–healthy, solvent, childless and ready for new adventure. (A couple on a bike was pictured, legs outstretched, careening down hill; or maybe I imagined that part.)

There’s something freeing (or anxiety producing) about your first-born reaching 20.

Maybe that explains it.

Or maybe it was the combination of two favorites: peanut butter & chocolate;
or the familiar comfort of a potluck gathering;
or the long-awaited return of the sun on Winter Solstice;
or the welcoming words: love & gluten-free–in the innocent shape of a cookie.

All of these came at the tail end of a month–an entire fucking month–of hormonal headaches.

Nothing happened. Not really. Which was always the way it was when I dipped into cannabis in my early twenties. (Except for that single cosmic kiss, senior year, with one of the twins. Which one? I no longer remember.)

I do remember thinking that the ambulance ride over Hogback Mountain (20 years ago)–from our wooded road to the nearest hospital (in my final stages of labor)–was just about the distance it would take for this ambulance to transport me from the coast of my childhood–to the mainland–where my father still practiced.

Only now, time was moving in two directions. Back and forth. Back and forth. Folding over on itself, like the hard, ribbon-like candy that no one buys at the fudge store where we stopped before I began to feel the effects of my second-ever edible. This one on Valentines Day.

We were back “home” for the week. Gathering with high school friends. All of our children grown, or grown enough to leave behind. We called it “Our Big Chill Weekend.” We forgot that the gathering in the film centered around a funeral.

When someone reminded me that we partied on this exact weekend almost 40 years earlier, I felt a chill. The same bitter cold. An equally bitter ending. The vacuum cleaner tossed out the second-story window. The gold fish tossed onto the bed.

But I missed that part. I left the party early to spend the night with my boyfriend, in an empty, ocean-side hotel, where whatever he had consumed that evening… Unleashed a torrent of darkness onto me. Words, like daggers. Hurting still.

The absence of linear time makes the smallest distance–say from the beach to the bridge–play in a continuous loop–while in a moment of clarity, and with great effort, I determine that this distance could easily be covered in less than 5 minutes, particularly without summer traffic.

The sound of a siren jolts me from my reverie.
I look for the ambulance so that I can pray.
(Something I did with my children when they were little.)
And then I realize…
It’s me.

Twenty minutes must have passed.

Even in the car, while we waited for the EMTs; even before our friends arrived and called 911; even as I sat there alone in the empty parking lot, I thought: “I can’t believe this is me.”

~

At first, I considered the experience another dud. We took group photos on the street mall. We stopped in the fudge shop. We decided on a restaurant. We chose seats. We ordered beers. My husband and I decided upon a cheese steak. But just as my drink arrived, I felt it. A thick, gray fog swiped the right of my forehead. A moment later, another came across my lower back, also on the right.

I pushed my drink aside.
A wave of nausea followed.

“Can we change seats,” I asked a friend who sat across the table from me.
I shimmied in beside my husband.

“Something’s not right,” I said. “Meet me outside.”

The cold air was soothing. The ocean only a block away. Maybe I would walk.

“I feel weird,” I said. “I don’t think I can stay.”

Casey wrapped his arms around me, and for a moment, I sensed the pure, physical presence of his twenty-year old self. I exhaled into this tender reunion, and then felt its shadow. This boy had none of the substance of the man I knew and needed now.

“I have to get to the car,” I said.

He handed me the keys. We decided that he’d meet me as soon as he paid our check and grabbed our food. I moved on, relieved to have a purpose–but the further I walked from the restaurant, the less I was sure of where I was, or if could find the parking lot, or the car, or the keys.

~

My next impression, after the sound of the siren, was just how many bays there were in the Emergency Room, and how they were only separated by curtains. Had I ever been inside this ER as a patient? (Probably not as a doctor’s daughter.) Could I return to the privacy of the ambulance? Could they tuck me in some corner? A private room?

20 years earlier, when they wheeled me past the reception desk of the Emergency Room in Vermont, I overheard the nurses say, “She’s in labor?”

I imagined that same dismissiveness now.
A home birther.
A pot smoker.

I lie there on the gurney shaking, just as I had after my cesarean. Only now, no one cared to keep me warm.

Waves of sensations, like labor, continued to overwhelm me. Hours passed before it was finished. Days within each hour. A lifetime within each moment. It would be 24 hours before the contractions ceased, and more than eight before they had grown far enough apart to leave medical attention.

Inside each contraction, time collapsed and expanded.

“What happened?” I asked my husband. “How long has the nurse been gone?”

“How long have we been sitting in the car?”

“How long was I here alone?”

“How long have we been waiting for the ambulance?”

First the police; then the EMT’s; then the LPNs, and the RNs; and finally the doctors asked:

“What happened today?”

I stared at their faces, impassively, and said nothing, except to say how fast my heart was beating or that my insurance card should be inside my wallet, or that I wasn’t allergic to any medication.

“Don’t forget my purse,” I said to my husband. “Remember to lock the doors.”

I was struck by how similar these thoughts were to my every day thoughts. How I felt a sense of relief when a friend told me that he drank the full beer I’d left behind.

Where was the transcendent consciousness that should accompany death or a high?

But this wasn’t a high. This was the lowest of lows. This was all my bad days poured into one. Stacked on top of each other.

(I made a mental note to meditate more.)

That morning, over mimosas, in the kitchen, where we had been as girls, I moved around the brunch table, offering a massage to each of my friends.

In the car, I tried to explain to Casey that somehow I was now chelating the grief and trauma I felt inside of them.

“Did I just say something?”

There was a strange pause between speaking and awareness or between awareness and speaking.

“Did you answer me? How much time came between what you said and what I said?”

Someone wheeled in a cash register. Someone handed us a clipboard. Someone apologized for asking for billing information. Someone apologized for asking for signatures. “At a time like this,” they said. “At a time like this.”

Others took my vitals. My blood sugar. The hospital gown was pulled down to my belly. My bra was removed. Tiny pads placed hurriedly around my heart. A week later, there are itchy scabs in those same places. A day later, we were still finding sticky pads left behind.

My husband tells me that he was disturbed by the lack of attention to privacy. I remember looking down to see the familiar slope of breasts which had nourished two children. Attached to wires. Attached to a machine. I asked him to cover me. Not for modesty, but for warmth. He placed my shirt over me. (I wished I hadn’t worn my favorite.) He made a pillow from my coat. (I wished he’d used that to cover me.)

A series of professionals entered and exited my world.

“You’re a healer,” I said.

“I’m just doing my job,” the nurse said.

“No,” I said. “Everyone has been doing their job, but you’re the first healer I’ve encountered.”

She kept at her work, brisk and focused, but she returned with blankets to keep me warm.

Gradually, my heart rate began to slow.

I let Casey leave to give our friends an update.

The gaps in consciousness continued, further apart, and wider, into which I fell–despairing and hopeless. All around were sounds of suffering.

On the other side of the curtain,was the barking cough of a young child. A nurse arrived, but instead of providing care, she asked the parent a series of questions.

“Warm water with honey. A chest rub. A humidifier.” I said, quietly, to the curtain, feeling my mother’s clear and composed presence.

My mother would have been wheeled into this same room on the morning of her seizure. My baby sister called me first. “Hang up and dial 911,” I said. We were 300 miles apart. She was 14.

On my left, was the sound of a big man in his sixties. He just received the news that he his hip was broken. He would need surgery.

Our anguish bled together.

I considered dying then, until I heard a loved one arrive and encourage this man back into the light.

I sent him Metta:

“May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you…”

I wondered why I hadn’t thought to do this sooner, and in this awareness, recognized, a turning point.

~

“Here now,” I said. “Here, now.”

This is how I steadied myself, alone, in the car, as the sensations magnified.

“May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be…”

When even that was too much,  I relied on Ujjayi breath, and then left nostril breathing. After that, I simply focused on my feet.

“I need help,” I said. “I need help.”

I considered opening the door and yelling, which would be less embarrassing than dying, but the parking lot was empty.

“Casey will be here soon. Casey will be here soon,” I said.

I thought about people dying in foreign places.
Strokes. Heart attacks. Seizures. Overdoses.

My mouth was so dry.
My water bottle was so close

I thought about children with dysentery.

I was loosing motor control. Or volition. Or both.

“Casey,” I said. “Casey.”

I considered getting out of the car, but when I turned my head left, toward the summer stores, all the shades were down. And I couldn’t look right.

I thought about knocking on the window, and mouthing, “Help,” to a passing stranger. But the window on the left was too far away. And there were no strangers anyway. There was no one at all. Anywhere. The world had been emptied of life, like the apocalypse films of my childhood.

I tried to look right again, but each time, the world would tilt, and something else was there. Everything of which I was terrified. The family who burned in the fire. The toll booth. A scary man.

Left. Right. Masculine. Feminine. I attempted an inquiry, but I was already moving from clarity to anguish again.

Later, I would tell Casey that the symptoms seem to move in a circle. At the top, there was a moment of stability where I could communicate, briefly, and sip water that he held to my lips, but this was immediately followed by fierce trembling and pounding waves of nausea and a pulse that grew alarmingly high.

“Am I having a seizure,” I asked.

There was a truck parked on the road ahead of me, further away than it should have been, but in such crisp focus that it seemed to be right in front of me. Later, Casey’s face would have that same disturbing crispness, as would the face of the first-responder, whose earnest gaze reminded me of my third grade student, Eric Davis, a boy scout, who wanted to be an EMT, and had grown up to become one, which I discovered, when I spoke at his burial, a decade later. Suicide.

The late afternoon light shimmered on that truck, but didn’t reach the one that sat across the intersection. Its mirror image. Shaded by Our Lady of the Sea–an oppressive, stone structure–where my friend married and later buried her parents.

But there couldn’t be two trucks, because there was no room to park across the intersection in front of the church; which must mean that I was seeing two worlds–one dark, one light–like Stephen King’s, Talisman, which 20 year old Casey convinced me to read.

I was the truck, seeing myself in the mirror. The mirror I had looked into as a child. My grandmother’s mirror. The truck that crushed her. The bridge that ended her life. The accident that emptied my world of love.

“Jesus help me,” I said.

I’d been a loving mother. A loving wife. A loving friend. It was okay to go. But what a stupid way to die.

“Ishvara Pranidhana,” I whispered. (May my successes and failures be of service.)

Hours passed or minutes. Casey was there. Or wasn’t there. I was there or wasn’t there.

He held his hand on my left leg. “I need a trash bag,” I said. (But I wouldn’t let him move.) “I need a doctor,” I said. (But I wouldn’t let him leave.)

Out of the sinister angle of the sun, just past the shimmering truck, our friends appeared.

Later one would tell us that she had to say “Marijuana,” three times to the 911 operator, and that the police officers, who were the age of our children, cautioned us about gateway drugs, and mocked my Vermont license plate and Bernie sticker.

“I let Bernie down,” I said to my husband. “I’m so ashamed.”

I knew how this was supposed to go. I was supposed to feel all chill and blissed out. People who panicked were mocked. I wasn’t supposed to need help. I wasn’t supposed to tell.

I could hear and couldn’t hear the people talking around me.
The door on my right opened.
A police officer bent down to address me.

“I can’t look at you,” I said. “I’m afraid of right.”

Everyone wanted to be amused. Everyone wanted to laugh.
If this wasn’t funny, what was it?

Everyone said, “You ate whole cookie?”

One suggested that I think back to the last time I smoked, and recall that feeling instead.

That was almost 30 years ago, in Steamboat Springs, before a Spyro Gyro concert, which ended up being sold out, so we went to the movies, but arrived so last minute that we had to take front row seats, just as the film opened in the jungle of Vietnam. Platoon.

Everyone gave me choices. Did I want to get out of the car by myself or did I need help? Did I want to walk to the ambulance or go on a stretcher? Did I want to let them strap me in so that we could get to the hospital?  I thought about my years as a preschool teacher.

I tried not to doubt their competency, their young faces. I hoped that their lack of authority meant that there was no danger; but I also suspected that few were capable of considering marijuana seriously.

“Do you live in the area. Do you have a doctor?”

“My father is a doctor here,” I said, in the tiniest of voices, hoping that someone would call him, but equally embarrassed to be 52, wanting my father, who I knew was out of town, and who always considered me the daughter he didn’t have to worry about.

“Your husband will have to ride in the front,” they said. “Protocol.”

I paused. I wanted to be compliant, but then I spoke with surprising articulation (and volume):

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to let the only person who is keeping the patient calm stay beside her?”

Later, Casey told our friends that I thanked each person who helped me along the way.

I was surprised to discover that I was the same person I’d always been. Relieved to be no worse; but disappointed to be no better. Conscious. Gracious. Concerned for my friends. Preoccupied with being cool. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Attentive to belongings. Worried about expenses. Thinking of my children.

“I could die with you by my side,” I said.

“We can’t tell Aidan,” he said.

Aidan, our youngest, had been disappointed when I ate that first cookie on Solstice, and he had rebuked the plans I shared for Valentines weekend.

“You disobeyed me,” he said, and then he hugged me, relieved and sad.

A week later, he is still hugging and scolding me.

My children and I have rarely traded roles. After growing up with an addict, I made sure of it. As the oldest of 8 children, I was the one that each sibling relied upon for steadfastness.

I suppose I’ve been more than ready to step off that pedestal.

We left the shore three days ago. In two cars.
My son rode shotgun.
Our attention was dulled by hours of highway driving until we saw an orchard flanking the highway.

“Imagine it in autumn,” he said.

“I like it right now,” I said, taking in the late afternoon light on the bare and gnarly branches.

~

(Click here for Part II: What’s so funny about… )

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens

when the end is near…

There was the afternoon
when i slid down the wall
in the hallway
in front of the bookshelf
and dozed there
with a lap full of journals;
until voices lifted my gaze
out the window
toward the hill,
where Aidan,
tall and lanky,
like a teenager,
used a plastic bat
to hit snowballs to his friend.

Unlike his older brother,
Aidan has lulled me,
with his child-like ways,
into the fantasy
that “we”
will always
be.

(Emily was right…
How softly summer shuts, without the creaking of a door.)

Posted in Archives, Fragile Life, New Mother

miscarriage

(from my journal, 1993)

broken_heart1

Dear Someone,

Dear anyone!

I’m looking for you to cry out.

I anguish.

I hurt.

I suffer.

The world is beautiful.
I don’t see it.

You are kind.
I won’t feel it.

Dreams come true.
I don’t need them.

The music sings to me.
I can’t hear it.

I’m locked inside this
suffering mind

trapped in pain
wrapped up in anguish

and I don’t know where the
answers are

can’t see to look
can’t feel to find
can’t hear to listen.

Posted in *Workshops, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Nuts & Bolts, Teens, Tweens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

CHORES–Why they’re WORTH the FIGHT

children-parent-tug-of-war
I’ve written about the importance of chores before, including these posts:

The Necessity of Chores

HALF! Day

How Full is Your Plate? an online workshop for moms

But what I’ve failed to fully admit is how much easier it would be to  do everything myself.
(And it would be done a lot better.)

Why do I bother?

I’d like to say that I do it all for them–to make them better citizens, humans, energetic beings (and that is true); but another truth is that I don’t want to do everything so it’s worth it to have some jobs done less than perfectly.

BUT the angst. THE ANGST!
The reminding. The redirecting. The reprimands.

Sometimes I find myself questioning if it’s worth it, and questioning whether I should be encouraging other people to suffer like this by leading workshops on chore sharing in the home.

And then there are those other times, when in the distance, I hear the sweet and soothing sound of a boy swishing a toilet, or vacuuming a room, or emptying waste baskets; and I think: I AM BRILLIANT.

But what if you like doing your own chores and want them done perfectly?

I still recommend sharing the load. Here’s why:

The Necessity of Chores

But what if your teen’s resistance is so strong that it takes way more energy than you can manage to keep them in the game?

It’s still vital. For them.
Try a dose of creativity, like this:

HALF! Day

And now for a new chunk of highly salient information expanding on why it’s worth the EFFORT:

Kids need conflict to grow up. Particularly teenagers. It’s part of the individuation process. It’s how they begin to separate from our cozy nest and shape their own flight.

When I accept that conflict is necessary, I surrender to it, and not just that, I RESPECT it.

This is quite revolutionary.

Conflict isn’t in the way,
it IS The Way.

I’d like to take credit for this awareness, but my therapist gets a lot of that.

See this post for how I put it into action:

Episiotomy (of love)

And here’s something even more radical for your consideration:

Since conflict is a necessary part of the developmental process, particularly with teens, then how cool is it that they get their daily/weekly dose of parental conflict in a way that makes such a foundational difference in family life–working together to honor and contribute to the space we share–rather than investing it in other areas with much higher stakes.  (Think sex, drugs, alcohol.)

Posted in College, Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments

Passion. Purpose. Partying.

There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes;
the true, where he is free to do what he ought.
~Charles Kingsley

Is it me or is there something inherently wrong with dropping your child off at college? And not just because you’re leaving him at an institution. But because that institution is filled with throngs of the people who are of the same age and predilection.

06-114th-congress-swear-in.w529.h352.2x
Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/Corbis

Is this kind of homogeneous grouping  ever a good idea? Think of nursing homes. Prisons. The military. North Korea. British cooking. Congress.

As we arrive at my son’s new, sophomore year suite, we find his roommates steeped in the activity of the only Sunday night of the semester without homework.

I fight the urge to say,”You don’t have to stay.” Instead I whisper, “Everything is a choice.”

He whispers back, teasing me: “Like heroin?”

“Yes, like heroin,” I say, “And staying in this dorm.”

As we hug goodbye in the hallway, I suggest that he reconsider the academic dorm, but he lets me know that those students are even more serious about drugs.

I don’t want him to be too serious.  I think fun is important. In fact, when we arrived at the top of the stairs with his luggage and I heard the music blaring through the door of his suite, I had a moment of remembering.

The abandon.

The freedom.

I like freedom.

Partying is one way to explore it.

But it can quickly become a destination instead of an avenue.

(Plus, college is an expensive party.)

 

Posted in College, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

the canyon

broken_heart1There is so much time–a grand canyon of time–between the intimacy of mothering and the emptying of the nest. And the time in between is something altogether out of time. Only you don’t realize this until you find yourself on the other side. Which is where I am now.

It’s a bit like marriage. Maybe a lot like marriage. Only the gap is swifter then. Like in the time between the birth of your first child and your first getaway. Where you discover that there is nothing. Left. Where there once. Was. Everything.

It was his birthday. I dug out the blue cardboard box with the silver stars and found a melted nine candle and melted one candle and put them together to create the impossible number: 19.

Going through the motions.

The night before was even harder. We sat on his bed and read the book that we read every year on the kids’ birthdays: “On the day you were born…”

He was born on a rainy Tuesday. Waited forever for him to come. Agonized through years of negative pregnancy tests. Two miscarriages. An emergency c-section. And once he was in my arms, I never let him ago.

Until, of course, it was time.

First in little ways. Then in small ways. Next in big ways. And finally, the day we took our baby to an institution 3 hours away and left him to live with strangers.

College.

9 months later, he returned home to us. Loving us once more.
Only I was miles away.

Posted in College, Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Teens, Uncategorized, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Turnstile

revolving-door-1
We sent our very independent and surly 18 year old off to college last August, and he returned this past May, thrilled to be home.

We were taken aback by this deep appreciation for our small world given his desperation to escape it a year earlier, and we mistook this as a leap in maturity rather than a deep disappointment in his experience at college and in himself there.

His new plan is to take a semester’s leave and to volunteer in his field (International and Community Development) to help bring the excrutiating static classroom experience to life; and to shed light on how to move through with passion and meaning and integrity.

With this aim, he has been working with a non-profit organization in Central America to find a good fit. They have decided on a women’s artisan cooperative in Costa Rica in the same town that he visited with his Junior High class in what seems like another lifetime ago.

He leaves in two weeks.
He leaves.
He.

As parents, we’re not sure about our role; which has been increasingly true for a least a couple of years now.

I’m beginning to understanding that parenting, all of it, is not so much a nest as it is a reverse toll booth or a turnstile or one of those revolving doors through which others move from the outside to the inside to the outside again.

In this analogy, I find it important to distinguish the role from myself. This distinction seems to have growing relevance as our children become adults.

I want to communicate support and encouragement without robbing initiative and autonomy, and that is a tall order.

Breath has become one of my greatest tools. And silence. And listening.

(But just in case, click here for his upcoming trip. Pass it a long if you’re so inclined.
Just don’t tell him that I asked.)