Posted in College, Insight, Mother to Crone, Sexuality, Teens, Twenty-something, Violence in the home, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

My son. My son.

I feel a chill come over me each time a man and especially a woman dares to say:

“Aren’t you worried about some girl ruining your son’s life?”

After the chill, I feel grief.
After the grief, anger.
After the anger, despair.

My mind flashes on RAINN’s statistic:

“Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child.”

Do my friends mean to suggest that my job as a mother is to turn away from girls who have for centuries been sexually assaulted in fear of some hypothetical accusation against my son in the future? (A statistically negligible one at that.)

What also chills me is this other well-meaning admonition:

“Teach your sons not to rape.”

I’ve got to say… I’ve raised two boys and I’ve skipped that one.

The idea that I would have to “teach” my boys not to assault another human being just because that being is female is appalling.

This is a close second to:

“Teach your sons to respect women.”

“Respect women,” is something I’ve never said to my boys, but you can be sure it was everywhere implied. Because women. Are human beings.

It’s the little things.

My boys were raised in a home that practices boundaries and respect, kindness and consideration, anger and connection.

As they came of age, we let them know that their relationship with me had to change in some ways. Though I would always be their mother, I was also a woman, and they were becoming men. Given the difference of size and strength between us and given the history of what it is to be female in a society that perpetuates inequity, my boys would have to be even more mindful of any physical expressions of frustration, anger and persistence in my proximity.

We practiced this. I reminded them. Over time I shared some of the experiences of what it was to grow up female so that they might be more aware and sensitive to the adult gender dynamic between us and between them and women in the world even perhaps if they were innocent of any harm.

All along, since they were very small, we practiced responding to and respecting: No.

If they said, “No,” to tickling, we stopped, no matter how much fun we’d been having.

If they said, “No,” to more kisses or hugs, or to kissing or hugging a friend or relative, we allowed for that.

If they said, “No,” to an experience that made them uncomfortable, we listened, even when it was awkward, say with a doctor or other authority figure.

Violence was neither a form of discipline or a form of entertainment welcomed in our home.
Killing was not a game celebrated.
Degradation was not a source of enjoyment.
Trash talk was a chore.

The older of our two boys was not permitted to physically intimidate or violate the boundaries of the younger brother; and the younger, in turn, learned to reciprocate.

If the day comes that “some woman” accuses one of my beloved boys of rape, I will be horrified, not because my boys were always “good boys” or “played sports” or “studied hard” or “worked their tails off” (all of which they do) and not because “I taught them better,” but because to violate another in this way is one of the most trauma-inducing acts of violence known.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine: “Rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.” (The Guardian)

The odds, however, for “ruined lives” have long worked in favor of my sons. Not because they have been raised in a responsive and disciplined home without violence. Not because we engaged in a consciousness practice that allowed us to feel and express emotions, including anger, as well as monitor and modulate those emotions. But far and beyond because my children had the good fortune to be born male (not to mention white, educated and middle class.)

Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. “Only 6 out of every 1,000 do.” (RAINN)

I love my sons with all my heart and respect the men they have become, but it is the humanity of your daughters that most concerns me and which I endeavor, along with my sons, to project.

We, my friends, are a family of feminists, which is to say, we aspire to uphold the human rights of all, particularly those whose basic dignity has been threatened for so long.

~

My sons and husband join me each year as NGO representative at the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with a shoutout to the revolutionary work of MenCare.)

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Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, College, Fragile Life, Insight, Mother to Crone, Round Two, Teens, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Autumn 1st


After the truck pulled away with my youngest, I decided to sit on the front porch and soak up the day’s ending, and so I brought out the wool blanket from the couch and wrapped myself in it, and watched as the sky over Neringa Pond colored pink and purple and red.

After a while, I felt a chill descend, one whose icy fingertips I hadn’t felt since spring, and so I jumped up and ran back inside for the scissors and slipped on my garden clogs and dashed out the back door where the last of the light over the mountain lit up the stone wall, as the moon rose high above it, and I remembered: Full moons bring frosts.

I was in search of that last gladiola, the one that I had noticed earlier in the week when I’d been out soaking in the tub. I had long thought them finished for the season but I noticed then a new promising braid had appeared on the stalk. And wasn’t it now in bloom, and didn’t I find two more, and take all three which I would never think to do back in August or July.

As I turned to walk back down the stone path to the house, I stopped to admire the tall, cheerful faces of the zinnias–rosy and orange and red, and I cut some of those too, and then some quiet periwinkle-colored cornflowers bending shyly in the back (leaving the soft pink ones), and nearby in the shady spot some velvety silver plants, along with some painted daisies from a pot, and something else I don’t know the name of, because it was my oldest son, this past spring, who dug these flower beds when he was home for Mother’s Day, and filled them with manure and seeds and bulbs, returning again on Father’s day and for a week in July, planting more, while I complained about the extra weeding and watering (not to mention the debris) that he left behind in his wake.

“I worry about my gardens when I’m not there,” he told me on the phone from Burlington where he is finishing his degree. “You can’t imagine how that feels.”

“I think I can,” I said without mentioning his months in Central America or Morroco, Bulgaria and Spain.

And maybe he made these gardens off his mother’s office door beside the fox den because he could. Or maybe he made them because she is too practical for flowers. Or maybe he even imagined her pleasure when she’d look up from her writing, or when she’d pass the beds on her way to and from the outdoor shower. And maybe he didn’t know what a comfort these late blooms would be when all her children were gone, or maybe he intuited the exponential ending this summer brings.

Back when he was just a boy standing barefoot beside me in the midwife’s office, I turned to see his face, and I said: “Don’t worry Lloyd, you’ll never have to feel any of this.”

Mary was removing the stitches from the tearing at the baby’s birth that Lloyd, just two weeks shy of his 5th birthday, had attended with his father in the tiny bathroom of the farmhouse that we rented for 7 years when we first moved to Vermont.

His response was touching and rebuking and still unnerves and informs me almost two decades later as he wrapped his little arms around his belly:

“I felt it inside.”

Lloyd was home again a few weeks back for his father’s birthday–the three of their birthdays arrive in a row with barely more than a month between the first and the last, and not much left in me by the time that last one rolls around–on the anniversary of my mother’s passing just after the baby was born and the stitching removed one by one.

In between visits, he calls, especially when my texts and messages and photos and links have stockpiled in his inboxes.

“Were you writing about me?” he asked last week, referring to the piece I’d posted about a break-up.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “You broke up with me when you were like 12, announcing that you’d never cuddle with me again, but reminding me that I still had your little brother.”

By the time I arrived at the back door and freed a hand to let myself in, I looked down to see my arms filled with flowers, and once inside, I picked up my phone without setting them down, to capture them in their gathered state before arranging them in a vase.

And that’s when I remembered the vegetables, and I ran out the front door to cover them in the dark, harvesting what I could see of the ripe cukes and tomatoes, unable to locate what remained of the basil.

Once back inside, I set to arranging the flowers but instead of tidily dividing them among the rooms of the house to make the most efficient use of joy, I stuffed them all into the largest vase and placed it at the center of our home, on the large round kitchen table, which we never quite filled as a family of four except when we had company, and where my mother’s tarot cards sat waiting, having completed my son’s Autumnal Equinox reading just before he left to go back to school and now awaiting my own.

Just then a familiar sound piqued my attention; a sound I hadn’t heard since summer somewhere in between the boys’ August birthdays—and this is how the first day of autumn ended…

An empty house, a bright bouquet, the call of the fox (which may have just been the sound of the aging dishwasher, completing its cycle.)

Posted in College, Insight, Milestone Moments, Nuts & Bolts, Round Two, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

My baby


I’m pretty sure we’re breaking up.

It’s been a long time coming.

The thing is we have a child between us.

Himself.

Which means just like divorced parents, we’ll always be connected.

But we’ll need to find new ways of relating beyond the swiftly outdated dance of dependence & provision.

Extracting two beings from we who had once been one.

Inside this never-ending flow of love & letting go.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, College, Fragile Life, Insight, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Demeter (College drop-off, Part. I)

There’s a battle raging in my belly, but what is the fight really for? I expect few in the battle know.

I once fought for a lover, offered to wear a string bikini & buy him a motorcycle.

But was it really him I wanted? (I’m so lucky I lost that fight.)

Neither do I want my children to never age, to never leave home.

I woke at 3 this morning, 4 am yesterday. I was there when the morning took its first breath and when that breath swept across the land with the rising sun, and I saw it greet the setting moon in the pink sky over the pond.

Though it’s been painful and violent and sweeping, maybe there isn’t a battle inside. Maybe this is what comes from laying a mantle down.

Before my decades as Mother, I cared for classrooms of students (who are parents now themselves), and before students, it was my eight younger siblings and an entire generation of younger cousins.

“Kelly Ann, you’re the oldest, you must set a good example.”

They began to potty-train me before I could walk.

I wore black last Saturday when we moved our chubby-cheeked sky-eyed baby into a dormitory room 100 miles away.

Before leaving home, I hung a black fleece blanket on the line thinking: How fitting.

“We don’t have a family anymore,” I cried to my husband when we returned home to nothing but ourselves.

I refused consolation.

Like the fabric draped over mirrors, this grief, this agony is an honoring of a great passing. A necessary or at least certain tearing of the fabric.

“Let it rip,” my mind says.

“How dare you!” replies my heart. “Would you say the same of your life’s work, or your country or your self? What do you know of carrying a life inside! Of sustaining it at your breast!”

But the ripping has been there since the beginning. The cells dividing. The infant forced from the womb. The first day back to work. The first day of preschool. The first crush. The first death of a pet.

I lay on the couch, holding my belly in agony. I haven’t been able to hold down food since the day I wore black, and a hardly ate in the days leading up to that.

But I’ve figured out what it is about that line from that parenting song by Tom Rush where the son is leaving. It’s bothered me ever since my boys were young, back when this family of four was a forever feeling…

Goodbye momma goodbye to you too pa
Little sister you’ll have to wait a while to come along
Goodbye to this house and all its memories
We just got too old to say we’re wrong

Got to make one last trip to my bedroom
Guess I’ll have to leave some stuff behind
It’s funny how the same old crooked pictures
Just don’t seem the same to me tonight

There ain’t no use in shedding lonely tears mamma
There ain’t no use in shouting at me pa
I can’t live no longer with your fears mamma
I love you but that hasn’t helped at all

Each of us must do the things that matter
All of us must see what we can see
It was long ago you must remember
You were once as young and scared as me

I don’t know how hard it is yet mamma
When you realize you’re growing old
I know how hard is not to be younger
I know you’ve tried to keep me from the cold

Thanks for all you done it may sound hollow
Thank you for the good times that we’ve known
But I must find my own road now to follow
You will all be welcome in my home

Got my suitcase I must go now
I don’t mind about the things you said
I’m sorry Mom I don’t know where I’m going
Remember little sister look ahead

Tomorrow I’ll be in some other sunrise
Maybe I’ll have someone at my side
Mamma give your love back to your husband
Father you’ve have taught we well goodbye
Goodbye Mamma goodbye to you too pa”

~

Give your love back to your husband!

WHY IS IT only the mother who is assigned another object of desire as if a woman is never a subject in and of herself. Either a Miss or a Mrs. Never an “I.”

Yes, I may have food poisoning or even a parasite. I’ve seen the doctor. And I’ve missed everything I’d imagined pouring into last weekend and into this week–from the Boozy Brunch to the Romantic dinner to the hours of uninterrupted focus to swimming with the moon and communing with friends beside the pond.

But have I really “missed” it?
Is that what I wanted?
Is that what was needed?

Aren’t I like Demeter, separated from her child, in a period of necessary darkness.

Isn’t it true what May Sarton had to say, that without darkness, nothing comes to birth, as without light, nothing flowers.

And isn’t this separation like a flower on a garland lifting up all the other flowers—all the previous incarnations of seed & bloom & leaving—like summer is getting ready to do. Summers past and lovers past and even my own siblings taken from the home we shared and kept apart from one another except for formal, supervised visits in a cold and unwelcoming place. And then the earliest flower of all, Lila, when 4 years and two-thousand miles separated me from the place and the person to whom I most belonged until death made that a fools dream.

Last night as I lay on the couch bemoaning the heat and a diet restricted to broth, a breeze blew through the window above my head and lifted the gauzy ivory curtain across my face, like the caress of a lover, like the first breath of the morning across the land, like a mother soothing a feverish child, like a covering draped over the head of the dead.

My life has held so much loss.
So much love.

To the refugees separated from their children, to my friends posting photos of the first day of preschool or a college drop off on the other side of the country… The flower of my heart is connected to yours.

On that first morning waking without a family, I looked out the window and saw that all the Gladiolas at the back of the garden had bloomed bright white.

~

College drop-off, Part II: Whose dream?)

Posted in Fathers, Fragile Life, Insight, Legacy, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts, Round Two, Takes a Village, Teens, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

“Someday” has arrived


Our community came together one day in June to raise the frame of our home–along with 3-year-old Aidan who spent the day hammering nails into the floorboards of what would be our kitchen; and 8-year-old Lloyd who knelt beside his preschool & primary teachers laying down the floor to what would become his bedroom; and Casey, age 38, who lifted beams with friends & family (and even strangers) to realize a dream come true; and me, age 40, who never had the chance to live in one place very long and who climbed the frame at the end of the day and tapped an evergreen branch to its peak while everyone cheered below.

14 years have passed.
14 Christmases.
14 wedding anniversaries.
14 winters & springs.
14 summers.
14 autumns.

Over the years, Casey spoke of needing an addition—the living room was always too small; but I countered that the boys would be gone someday and the house was already too large for two.

“Someday” has somehow arrived.

What was “raised” to be a home for 4, becomes a home for 2 at the end of summer—which is almost as unfathomable as building this home for ur family once was.

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Legacy, Takes a Village, Violence in the home

the fruit of pain


Having had too much to drink, I once openly grieved the separation of young children from their mother and siblings, adding to that my heartache about the emotionally abusive treatment they were receiving in their new residence.

For this admission of vulnerability and empathy, I was mocked, publicly, at a table in a cocktail lounge at the restaurant I managed during my summer breaks from school.

“If you really cared about them, you would skip your semester abroad,” he said.

I considered legal proceedings. I considered dropping out of school and getting a job so that I could afford a house that would fit us all. But these thoughts, like my voice, were futile. I wasn’t in a democracy. I was in a family.

All over Facebook, friends are sharing their stories of separation–the lasting impact–from the Holocaust to asylum-seeking to summer camp.

Feeling our own pain, however large or small, is a radical act. It allows us to feel the pain of another, without making it our own, which only serves to immobilize us.

Self-connection is necessary. Self-connection allows us to stay attuned to the needs of others while remembering our response-ability to the life we inhabit, right in the moment.

Self-connection might look like a walk, or a nap, a therapist chair, a bodyworkers table, a cup of tea in the garden, a meditation on a hummingbird’s flight, a weekend retreat, anything that reminds us of our distinctness so that the connection we offer is whole.

We have each experienced the pain of separation.

May it bear fruit.

 

Posted in Insight, Mother to Crone

the daughter i always had

On Mothers Day, I posted an old photo of my two sons with this caption:

M-iraculous
O-ffering of
T-ender
H-eart
E-nergy
R-ealized

Which inspired me to post a followup photo of my daughter.


With this caption:

My daughter~my lila~my play of consciousness~ready for another mother-daughter adventure, in our ever-unfolding dance of devotion, which took root in 2012, a dozen years after my youngest son was born and which will soon be light enough to fly!