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)

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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, 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 (Actual) Empty Nest, Home again, Mid-Life Mama, Mother to Crone, Nuts & Bolts, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Mother as Nourisher

 

They’re 18 and 23, and they don’t live with me anymore, but if we’re eating together, or worse yet if I’m simply watching them eat, I’m compelled to get involved.

Aren’t you going to finish that?

Do you want more butter?

Does that need to be heated up?

Don’t you like the soup?

WTF!

And it’s not just loving, motherly attention I’m expressing, but anxiety. PTSD even.

As a mother of two, and as a lifelong early & elementary educator, and as the oldest of 8, not to mention being born FEMALE, I’ve attended to children at mealtimes since I was old enough to talk—from bottle-feeding to spoon-feeding to fixing meals and to taking my youngest siblings (and later nephews & nieces) out to Pizza Hut long before I had any kids of my own.

Over the weekend my husband and I went out for brunch–with our grown kids–and we were seated near two different tables, each holding a mother and a young son and no one else. It was adorable.

At the table closest to us, the mother had a fruit cup and her child had waffles or pancakes or french toast (I can’t remember which). At the other table, it was the child who had the fruit cup while the mother had yogurt with granola. I noticed this and something else on my way to the bathroom.

The child with fruit was on a device.

“Did you see those two tables?” my husband later said as we were walking to our car. “I felt so sad about the mother who missed out on talking to her kid.”

I paused before I replied, and then I suggested that perhaps my husband had a gender bias/blindness, unaware of how demanding it is on mothers to eat out with their children.

My favorite scene about this parental gender differential is one that takes place at the dinner table with the Incredibles. For years, I dropped this phrase on my husband:

BOB, it’s time to ENGAGE.

“Maybe that mother and child had a really good connection before breakfast,” I said. “Maybe they’re going out for a hike afterward. Maybe this was her only quiet moment of the day.”

Our own kids were device free and maybe that had been a mistake. Maybe I would have been more relaxed if they were more fully occupied without my attention at the table.

That said, I have two lasting memories of eating out with my youngest son when he was a boy: There was the morning I had tea and he had waffles at the restaurant attached to the Butterfly Museum (because we had mistakenly arrived before it opened), and there was the first time he tried sushi and to my surprise loved it.

I remember being in Japan for work and dining at a traditional restaurant where no one spoke any English and I was served a breakfast on a tray with a dozen ceramic dishes of mostly unrecognizable foods without any directions on how to use or not use the accompanying condiments.

I took cues from the small children at the table across from mine, thinking it more acceptable to stare at them then at a table with only adults.

They ate, like everyone else in the restaurant, almost silently, without a fuss, tasting everything on the tray, for a meal that lasted as long as a fancy dinner might.

Maybe my husband was right. Maybe that other mom was missing out. Maybe she was on the road and needed a break. Both mothers and sons seemed to enjoy a relaxing meal. I admired them both and was grateful to be eating with grownups.

Posted in (Actual) Empty Nest, College, Home again, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Mother to Crone, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Blink!

Though it doesn’t make it hurt any less to look into their dark and vacant rooms, It turns out that they leave home at just the right time.

You’re getting older.
Noises bother you.
Lights. Chaos. Commotion.

You realize you’ve run a marathon and you’re not sure how you did it.

You’re more and more attracted to simplicity, ease, slow.

Exhale.
Inhale.
Exhale.

They’re home!