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 (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 College, Milestone Moments, Mother to Crone, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

I’ve hated this song since my kids were little


“Mama, give your love back to your husband.”

Such an obnoxious line from a son/song. First heard when my boys were babes, and now their birthdays make me sad, 23 & 18, the youngest leaving in ten days, the other long gone, home for a short stay to celebrate his special day.

But don’t I find myself cuddling up toward my husband more, like that guy in Maine with the old coon dog he had around the place on that bitter three-dog winter’s night.

And perhaps the most telling:

This morning I recombined our laundry after separating mine from his (and theirs), almost twenty years ago, a radical act of a new mother’s individuation then, an unexpected act of cleaving now.

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

Old Yeller

It turns out that I resent my children for aging out of our lives.

This is a surprise, because I was never one of those moms who wished the kids stayed little forever.

I always liked when they aged.

New beginnings and all.

And I am really looking forward to belonging to myself again. To rediscovering what that means.

So why this hostility?
This grief?

How does it hurt so much when I wouldn’t have it any other way?

These aren’t questions I’m asking my own heart. Questions that wake me into the moment so that I don’t miss it while hating them.

“I wish I never loved you at all,” I want to yell.
“LEAVE!”

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

Empty Nest Countdown…

august 10, eve of the new moon eclipse:

the night sky & i have companioned these two nights–first the museum lantern walk with my husband & son and then this evening’s solo soak in the woods tub–crickets sounding, Venus & Jupiter rising, bat circling overhead; this afternoon spent readying the home for the great transition–the last eclipse–Leo New Moon–Mother to Elder, “Dark of the moon, New beginnings, Dark of the moon, Plant a seed tonight,” the house aglow, welcoming letting go, the path to the back door still holding the day’s heat…

When, in two-weeks time, this new moon waxes full, 3 have become 2…
~

august 9, road trip, part I. & II.

“Mom, what do you want your tombstone to look like?”

~

Aidan talks to us about science & technology, non-stop, grilling us on what we don’t know (and don’t want to know)  “Preparing us for the future,” aka. shaming us for our ignorance, disinterest & fea

After much trial and error in search of an equally potent rebuttal topic (beyond “I taught you how to use a spoon and wipe your butt,”), I found the perfect one, something that is of little use to him, potentially aggravating and which I know more about.

(Thank you Vacation Bible School & Catholic higher ed.!)

~

august 7, looking back:


We were still in our twenties (and childless) on this day in 1993 when Casey and I left the sea for our new home in these Green Mountains.

both boys were conceived in this, our first house in Vermont, the longest I’d lived anywhere

both born in August, our youngest in the sweet room with the dormer and the louver window (aka. the small farmhouse bathroom), crowded with his father, his aunts, his big brother and not one, but two midwives with a dear friend looking on…

~
august 5, date night

filter play & ballet at the Retreat Farm with the bathroom baby, just after his 18th birthday

~

july 31, emptying

Aidan left town for a couple days which is a weird thing to say, but he will turn 18 in two days and that’s how it goes even if he has been our baby for so long which means we’ve aged him in our minds to about 13.

Won’t we be surprised in 3 weeks when he no longer lives here!

Which brings me to the dishwasher, almost full, even though it’s just been the two of us.

“If we time it right, we can get Aidan to empty it,” I joke to Casey after our quiet breakfast date on the porch, to which he replies:

“Let’s get as many empties out of him as we can before he goes.”

~

july 29, births

I wake to the bold, buttery-lemon bloom of the DAYLILY which cheers my weary countenance and immediately brings to mind our fair-haired, sky-eyed, LEO, born this week, 18 years ago, under the sign of the SUN; as too his older brother, but two weeks deeper into the month of August, with a darker complexion, much like the TIGER LILY, whose sunset hues, like the embers of a fire, welcome me home.

~
july 27, in a month’s time

This time next month will be a Monday, with all my guys back to school, but come evening, only one will return, and that will be a turning point for me Casey, just the two of us again, like we once were.

I expect searing pain, deep despair, and then something else, some new, precious, delight.

After we dropped our firstborn off to college a handful of years ago, it felt as if our family of four, reduced to three, limped away from Burlington, like all the families with younger siblings we saw around us.

I can’t fathom how it will feel to head home without either child.

~
july 25, un-nesting

Just before Aidan’s college orientation last week, I began filling a basket for him with teas and ointments and band-aids.

“I’m not ready for that,” he admonished me when I asked what else he might need; but I wouldn’t/couldn’t stop, so necessary was the ritual to meet the angst inside.

This week, I find myself retrieving items from the basket. A few packets of tea. The open mouthwash.

What was I thinking? He doesn’t leave for another month (exactly.)

I remember the morning his older brother was to return to school after the long winter break (or was it after the summer one?)

While he was still sleeping, I unpacked one heavy box into two smaller ones which made more sense not just because of the weight but because of the organization of similar items.

I felt much better after that, but I wasn’t surprised when he arrived downstairs to see what I had done and was furious.

First-borns like myself have such a need for autonomy and self-direction having spent too much time in the lone company of (and constant direction from) adults.

After he finished dumping the contents of both boxes back into the larger one (excruciatingly more disorganized than before) , I grabbed the electric tea kettle that I’d bought him for Christmas, and he grabbed it too, and we stood on opposite sides of that big box, wrestling over where it would go.

“Just let me have this,” I said, and in my eyes, he finally understood.

I wasn’t trying to control him. I was trying to control the awful ache of letting go.

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.