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)

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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 Insight, Mother to Crone

Mothers, SIT Down!

Me & my boys many moons ago

Now that I’m no longer doing it with little kids or teenagers (or even with my husband), I have come to the realization that this every-day, taken-for-granted necessity is as complex and demanding as many top-dollar responsibilities.

Mood, energy level and hunger aside, the thought processes required to fulfill this obligation are exceedingly complex.

Preference, season, local, organic, sustainability, dietary, budgetary, bulk, sale, recipe, occasion, guests… What have I forgotten?

At 55, I cannot believe that anyone is expected to make multi-faceted decisions affecting family health, wellbeing & financial stability while simultaneously caring for children. Women must refuse to do so any longer. It is simply too taxing and motherhood is tax enough. (Men, however, should grocery shop with children as much as possible. For the next thousand years.)

I rarely shop on a Sunday and it was disheartening to see the aisles absent of men this morning, and instead populated by frantic mothers tending to the needs of children while carefully filling a cart.

If ever you ever come across a young mother grocery shopping without children in tow, she looks as if she is on vacation, so freed is her mind to focus or daydream; while men shopping alone often look perplexed or entirely ambivalent.

I always thought I loved grocery shopping. I used to cry when my mother left me behind. Once I could drive, I did the shopping for her. With several younger siblings, I may have simply been hungry. 8 gallons of milk is all I can remember. I can still see the white jugs lining the bottom of my cart with a signed check in my pocket.

When I was lucky enough to accompany my mother as a girl, she would coach me and my younger siblings before heading inside. “Previewing,” is what the educators call it now. Though uneducated, my mother was a brilliant developmentalist. As the eldest of 8 and the mother of 8 (with an absentee husband), this may have been a matter of survival. She often apologized, explaining that as her first, I had been her practice child.

When I went into teaching, she expressed alarm. “All those children,” she’d say, “How will you manage?” But I liked the order and routine of the classroom much better than the chaos and ambiguity of the home, as if those were my choices, which were much better than hers.

It turns out, I was anxious in the classroom too, just as I was in the home and in the grocery store, even alone.

What is this internal pressure?

I wasn’t born with it.

I suppose it was inherited through the generations of women asked to do so much at once with so little recognition of what it is they faced and considered and decided every hour of every day.

Mothers, AMAZE me.
WOMEN amaze me.

SIT DOWN, Women!
Put up your feet.
You deserve it.
YOU ARE ENOUGH.
You are MORE than enough.

TAKE A BOW!

Posted in College, Insight, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond), Wisdom of Youth

Parenting bites…

With the nest almost empty now, my parenting insights come in shorter bits which I suppose is just about right as I turn more & more toward other things…

And yet, I’m learning that this role is the role of a lifetime…

~

Payback Theater

That rare night when he goes to bed before us. A dramatized rendition of what we endure night after night. Door latches. Stairs. Lights. A sudden desire to share scientific discoveries, insights, intimacies.

~

IN A FAMILY WAY

It’s such a comfort, this being a family. A buffer. An ease. A certainty. Sweet. Exhausting. Consuming. Distracting.

The silence, after, is deafening. Resurrecting. The original. Sin. Of separation. Abandonment. Mortality.

There is this larger family. This shared dwelling. This belonging.

There is this whole.

Past. Present. Future.

One.

~

OUR TURN

My state is proposing a 24-hour waiting period to buy a handgun.

Here’s an idea. Until this country figures out its shit when it comes to guns, men are unable to purchase them, and women are in charge of any firearms in the home. Furthermore, public funds are provided to women for firearm training and to provide the necessary equipment for safekeeping. Additionally, all new hires in positions that require firearms will be women until such time that a 50/50 gender balance is achieved in police departments, security teams, military personnel, etc. Public funding will also post armed women at every school, church, and each of the other venues that the men of our country frequent to kill people begrudgingly and at random.

You’ve had our vote, our money, our bodies. We’ll have your guns.

~

FROM THE MOUTH OF BABES

”It’s like the release of a new iPhone. Is it going to be good, and are we gonna like it, or is it just gonna be the same thing without a headphone jack?”

Our youngest, on the Mueller Report

~

APOCALYPSE

You know how if your kids are plugged in–at home or in the car–you gain some well-deserved solace, but it’s bittersweet because they’re checked out, like that rambunctious kid in your classroom on Ritalin, or the outlying boroughs of NYC, silenced by the seduction of indoor screens, or the neighborhood of my childhood on the base at West Point, the roads in front of the homes now three times as full with oversized SUVs obscurring the view of the Hudson, while the sidewalks and the playgrounds and the woods, once sprinkled with kids, are barren, even on a perfect July day, like the ghost town we visited when we lived in the Rockies, or the Apocalypse we inhabit now–quieted, distracted, consumed.

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 College, Holidays, Insight, Nuts & Bolts, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Puzzles & Families, A-Z

 screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-5-58-09-pm

A 1000 piece puzzle may be the most revealing of family activities, exposing individual traits that shape the function (& dysfunction) of the dynamic of shared lives…

a. A few years back I bought a Will Moses “Thanksgiving Snows” puzzle as a charming kick off to the thanksgiving break

b. (even though we have never finished a puzzle in a decade)

c. my youngest and i started the puzzle; while my husband repeatedly asked if we were ready to pack it up.

d. i finally gave in (gave up) and sorted the edges and the finished bits into ziplocks to give us a better start in the following year

e. a year later i put the puzzle out again

f. my husband taped cardboard together so that the puzzle could be easily relocated

g. our oldest, home from college, never approached the puzzle. (in 2015 or 2016)

h. our youngest and i began the outer edges

i. he complained that no one was returning to the puzzle

j. he then devised a flow chart to assemble the ample sky pieces which he sorted–by cut

k. i showed our oldest his brother’s flow chart of sky pieces as a point of amusement; he was only slightly interested. maybe.

l. i ignored the flow chart and sky pieces and began with the recognizable barns, houses & people

m. i insisted that my husband join me

n. he claimed that he was too overwhelmed to participate so I suggested he begin with the large yellow house, and I set him up with a pile of yellow pieces

o. He insisted he needed all the pieces to the yellow house in order to continue and proceeded to handle every piece in the box in search of more yellow house pieces.

p. From time to time I looked over at his work, and annoyed, ran my hand randomly through the box, and found more yellow house pieces instantaneously than he did with his methodical sorting

q. looking up, he accused me of “taking all the glory,” because I put together the pieces of a man he had apparently found. (He told me to stick to the barn i was building.)

r. i told him that i didn’t realize that the man was his and also that i was working on three barns, two wagons, a few turkeys, a bunch of people, and other unidentifiable items

s. he continued sorting pieces one by one, while i suggested he return to the house with what he already had;

t. i left the puzzle. puzzles are fun for me for a moment, and then maddening.

u. an hour later, i insisted my husband step away from the puzzle

v. we are both afraid of what our youngest will say when he comes down and finds his system ignored

xyz… (to be continued)

post script: in 2017 we finished the puzzle! (in 2018, my husband claimed that he couldn’t find the puzzle in the attic.)