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 (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 (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 Adult Offspring, College, Fragile Life, Insight, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts, Takes a Village, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

No Guarantees


There’s something about a college graduation.

I can’t put my finger on it.

Last weekend, at the farmers market, I came across another college graduate and she told me about her plans to return west to start her career, and I walked away weeping.

I’m grateful for sunny days. For sunglasses.

I think it’s time. Maybe it’s time. Time passing.

Teens becoming grownups. Everything changing, reshaping.

I had come to the Farmer’s Market from yoga so maybe I was especially tender. I feel awfully proud of my son’s graduation, but I’m not sure why. What did I have to do with it?

I actually felt called out when the commencement speaker said: “Thank your parents,” especially as I looked around at all the richer parents or harder working ones or more sacrificing ones–those who put their kids through school while ours did it on his own.

And then I remembered all the trips I made to be close by when he was going through something that I couldn’t quite figure and then all the times I helped him navigate through alternate routes and detours and segues. I remembered all the encouragement and returns and goodbyes and trips to the airport. The fights. The pillow talk. The persistence. So much persistence.

Maybe I feel used up.

Maybe that’s just right.

I gave it my all, I did.

He seemed so happy on his graduation day and that made me happy. It still does. He was so full of himself in the way that every one of us should be at such a moment. Inflated. Buoyant. Light. The whole point of me was to be ballast. Weight. Homecoming. Backboard. Less and less relevant.

I always feel better when I write into something that I don’t quite understand even if I don’t understand it much better afterward.

Just showing up for myself is something.

Like I showed up for him.

Like we’ve been showing up for this nation.
For women.
For immigrants.
For Muslims and Jews and POC.
For the underpaid. The uninsured.

No guarantees.

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

Cutting Teeth

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Kelly Salasin, May 2018

I suppose every mother has her sweet spot.

There are those who get pregnant in an instant,

and those who feel better than ever when expecting,

and those who deliver with ease.

There are those for whom wearing a baby night and day is just right,

and those who delight in the ever-shifting expressions of a toddler,

and those who are made whole by the emerging consciousness of the preschooler.

There are those who can manage the ins and outs of homework and lessons and birthday parties and playdates,

and those who know whether to lean in or pull back as hormones shift and stakes heighten,

and those who can pivot from manager to consultant providing just enough space and just enough support for young adults to emerge.

There are even those who go on to develop healthy, reciprocal friendships with grown offspring.

~

From Thanksgiving to the New Year, this Empty Nest of mine has been awakened in new and mysterious ways leaving me unable to place my own sweet spot (though I was once particularly fond of the preschool mind.)

And then they all departed, again–my oldest and his partner (until the next holiday perhaps), and my youngest on the 1:00 train for a few days in the city ahead of returning to school full time.

I wandered the empty house, and then lay down on the couch, absorbing the silence, until I found myself, like a teething baby, drooling.

I often wonder if I made the “right” choice. Perhaps if I had remained in a demanding career or at least made more money (both of these fit together nicely), I would be riddled with less self-doubt or at least less space to consider it.

While they were home, I left them all, in an ice storm no less, to meet up with a young friend who since we last met became a mother, and I found her in a kitchen soothing an 8-month-old baby girl who was cutting her first teeth.

“Teething,” I said, “That was my hardest time.”

I watched as my friend juggled cooking and setting the table and conversation while tending to her child—diapers, feeding, play, comfort—revealing a depth of connection between these two beings, as if it was always so.

It’s the absence of control, matched with the emotional impact, coupled with the unpredictability and absurd variability, that slays me, particularly now, when I have such little reference for my role and so little clarity of how to do and not overdo.

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?

As the sun sets on another day, on another month-long school vacation, and on the first half of my 50’s, I have forgotten who I am.

Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.

One night, after everyone went up to bed, I took to the stairs, tucking my head under the railing while playing the soundtrack from Fiddler on the Roof to an empty room.

What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?

I looked out across the kitchen table to the French doors and recognized that new paths were emerging while the sweetness and burden of the path once shared necessarily fades…

Now they must learn from one another
Day by day.

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts

Voting: HOW TO

There are so many things important to me when choosing a candidate.

Character is key as are issues related to those most marginalized in society.

Years ago I remember overhearing my son explain to house guests why I couldn’t accompany them on a day trip.

I was on a grassroots organizing call around health care with President Obama. My youngest thought it was just the two of us on the call: Mom and the President of the United States of America. My older son had a better understanding.

“You don’t have health care!” our guests said, concerned.

“We have it,” my older son said, “But Mom wants everyone to have it.”

Gun Sense is another one of those issues that deeply affects the marginalized in society, whether it’s people of color, women (50 a month killed by intimate partners) or most painfully–children–killed–at schools and in homes–by their peers–when guns aren’t properly stored.

As an adult I feel morally responsible to take action with regard to these deaths. Voting is one way I do that.

Vote on November 6. (Or vote early.)