Posted in Fragile Life, Legacy, My own childhood

Pregnancy & Grief

I often think of my 20-year-old mother today.
Irish Catholic.
Exactly 8 & 1/2 months pregnant.

Her President, the age of her father-in-law, shot dead, beside his wife, on a Texas street.
My mother was 17, the age of my son, when she went door to door with her younger sister.

“The Kelly girls,” the neighbors called them.
Their mother sent them out to campaign.

I think of the unbearable grief that I felt on 9/11 & 11/9 and on the December day when children were shot inside their first-grade classroom, and I wonder that today is not my birthday.

And I wonder, what my young mother felt in those last two weeks with me inside.

And I wonder if the sweet sensitivity of my own son is due to the grief I held as he came into the world and she left it.

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Posted in Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, My own childhood, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

Beloved

She felt motherhood slipping away, like an ice cap, slowly melting over time, and then suddenly breaking apart, drifting further and further…

Knuffle-Bunny-300x226Alone, at a children’s book museum, she released silent tears, as she read Knuffle Bunny Free to herself.

She had read the first in this series: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale to her youngest when he was just a boy. Then there was Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity ; and finally: Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion–where the beloved Knuffle Bunny is lost yet again, and not grieved so much, as released.

Just this week her youngest son found his own lovey–a penguin–lost amidst the covers of his bed. He guessed he had been there for weeks. Without noticing. Without crying for help. Without the imperative of finding his Pengie.

Her older son was off to college and his kitty, Slimmy, once a treasured companion, now sat on a bookshelf, beside cologne and cds, in a vacant room.

Her own puppy, Mine, was similarly stowed, without the daily attention its weathered body received all those years ago.

And then she wondered, what becomes of Beloveds like these, when WE ourselves are gone?

Posted in Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, My own childhood, Teens

Leaving the Nest

cropped-nest-by-irish-eyes1-1By now, I know that this is how it goes. I expand into a new aspect of my life and the nightmares return. There was the one where I prostituted my youngest son. Or the one where my house was on fire. Or the one from this week where I cheated on my husband and abandoned the baby.

I don’t have a baby. I haven’t had a baby for 13 years. My kids don’t even need me. Not in that moment to moment, or even day to day way. In fact, when I’m gone they’re delighted. Not that they want me out the picture altogether, but that they welcome the opening that any familial absence brings.

And yet, each time I leave, I sense my world less secure. Threatened by my lack of attention–not so much because it’s needed, but because it’s necessary, as a ritual, of protection. Of vigilance. Of coping. Of childhood, mine, not theirs.

I have a therapist. I address these challenges as they come up, but they always return with the tide of life’s changes, particularly as I grow beyond home.

In last night’s dream, I was on a trip. I stopped at the police station on a city corner for help. Somehow my favorite sweatshirt was tangled in the traffic light lines overhead. I turned my back on my car only to hear it get hit by another. It wasn’t a bad accident, but my car was immediately pushed to the side of the road, by a bulldozer, and totalled in the process. Hood crushed. Windows smashed. Contents looted. Particularly during the night when I couldn’t watch.

At dawn, I returned to my vehicle, which had grown into a mini-van and then a trailer and finally a small warehouse, and came upon throngs of inner-city homeless shopping through my stuff as if it were a tag sale. I dashed after one object and then another, unable to stop the flow of my belongings departing.

I couldn’t remember what I had packed, and I couldn’t figure out what items were in greatest need of my protection. I stopped two women walking out with my books, and I said, “Those are mine,” and to my surprise, they seemed to care, not so much about the contents in their hands but about me. They asked if I had food. They asked if needed money. When I explained that I had eaten breakfast and that I had insurance for my things, they looked at me differently, and with that, they turned, with my things in hand.

Just then I saw two large men walking off with my Baggalini purse and tote bag. Finally, I was certain of something I should protect in this chaos. I ran after them, and then paused, considering if the belongings were worth my life. The men looked threatening. Maybe the had weapons. I had left those bags on the front seat of car, which became the chair, at my desk, near the piano, in the last classroom in which I taught before leaving my career as a teacher.

I followed these men out the back doors and onto the stairs, and grabbed after my bags, explaining how long it had taken me to choose this particular brand for my international work; but then I remembered, that I had left that job too, and didn’t really need those bags in the same way. The men kept rummaging through them, looking for something they wanted. I kept hoping that they wouldn’t find my wallet and my computer, which I couldn’t believe that I had left behind. I called out for help.

My husband appeared outside the building, at the top of the steps, outside of what had become glass doors;  and he waved pleasantly as if nothing was wrong; as if to say…

Hadn’t I chosen this sale of my life?

This what happens when you leave.

This is what happened each time I turned my back on my life as a daughter. My mother started drinking. My cat disappeared. My Nana was killed in an accident. My parents divorced. We lost our house. Our family was torn apart. My mother got cancer.

Pay attention, Kelly

Pay attention.

Kelly is constantly distracted.

Kelly is a constant source of distraction.

Kelly needs to focus.

Looked what happened when you weren’t paying attention, Kelly! Look what happened when you went away.

For this reason, I am terrified of wanting more. Of needing something other than the gift of my family and our home and our lives together.

I watched my father lose his family out of neglect for “other.” I watched my mother lose her family out of neglect of self. I want to be responsible. I want to do it right. I want everything good to last forever. I can’t bear to be at fault when it doesn’t. It is all such a precarious balancing act.

But now it is morning, and spring is awakening on our snowy hill. Geese call from overhead, and new patches of grass greet me out the window. The smell of sugaring lingers in the air.

I am hungry for breakfast. I will make eggs in my kitchen. And in a week’s time, I will abandon my family during our spring vacation for an opportunity to expand and enrich my own life, with the hope that they will be safe and secure and sublimely satisfied themselves.

My youngest is at first appalled that I will miss the trip (that I so carefully crafted) to visit his brother at school; though later he confides that he’ll enjoy the time alone with his dad. His brother tells me that he’d be mad if I didn’t go, if I didn’t take this opportunity. As a freshman at college, he knows something about the push to leave and the pull from home.

In fact, he was the one who, at four years old, when I took him to the art studio to sign up for classes, and discovered that he was too young, encouraged me to take a class instead. “You can do it, Mom,” he said. And I did. Because he believed I could.

This is how it is. Loss comes with light. Growth comes with pain. Opportunity requires giving something up.

Sometimes life’s choices aren’t as simple as good and evil, right and wrong, true and false; sometimes they’re both good and right and true–all at the same time.

I went back and forth on whether this post belonged on my personal journey blog, Two Owls Calling, or on this parental journey blog, The Empty(ing) Nest Diary, and I wished there was some way to have it rest–in between. I want to visit my son and take this opportunity in my life. But I have to choose.

And so I leave this post here,

and head off to myself–there.

Kelly Salasin

(Click to head “there” for the companion piece to this one, written 10 years earlier: Lobotomy)

Posted in My own childhood

The King’s Fountain

(an excerpt from the upcoming memoir, which might be titled: Lila~the woman, the book, and the vagina; but probably not)

2664b05bc36988dada6eaf011c308888“Kelly Ann, close the door, you’re letting the air out.”

Did you ever wonder how you could let the air “out” when it was already…everywhere? It’s like giraffes in winter.

“Kelly Ann, close the door, you’re letting a giraffe in.”

Why does the door matter so much? Hadn’t you helped the King build the fountain, rock by rock, around a tiny pool, just outside the door? Why couldn’t you use that same door? And climb atop the rocks, and turn the fountain on?

He didn’t seem to mind.

True, he was rarely at the castle except at dinner time, and hardly much then. But he did make you silver dollar pancakes on Sundays and turned nickles into quarters from one side of your head to the other.

It was the Queen who ruled; but she might be so busy as not to notice…

You could, very quietly, tip toe down the stairs, across the foyer (with the dog barking), and into the forbidden parlor, across the vacuumed lines in the carpet, and then, a step down into the sunroom, with floor to ceiling glass…

If you were brave; if you were very, very brave; you might shove aside the heavy drapes (which you should never do), press your face against the glass (making messy prints), tug the door open (leaving paint chips on the floor), and slip outside as quickly as you could (taking the cold air with you)–to find yourself atop the fountain… like a KING.

“Kelly Ann!”

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Milestone Moments, My own childhood, School, Wisdom of Youth

Eternal Spring… Kindergarten Moments

open clip art.com

At the end of the first stellar week of spring, I stood at the easel in the kindergarten among a group of prolific artists while a breeze blew in through the greenhouse door.

Across the room, Ellen was swarmed by writers, who were penciling letters to send through our own post office, while the remainder of the children were enraptured in the building corner.

“I’m having a kindergarten moment,”  I whispered to our intern from the college who was painting beside me.

Well, that makes sense, you’re in the kindergarten,” she teased.

I loved this young woman for the lightness she brought to my days, reminding me of my own college years.

Yes, but I’m really feeling the kindergarten-ness of it all,” I  said, unable to capture what it meant to be absorbed in the hollow sound of blocks, the smell of tempura paint and warm air, and earnest spirit of first time writers.

Later, during recess, I stood for a long time in the bright sun of the open field before heading down the hill into the coolness of the woods. There I found small pockets of children tucked into their own worlds of tree and rock, mud and stream.

Gaugin, detail, visipix.com

As I approached, they looked up like deer; but then went on with their play as if I was of no relevance.

In one woodland home, a small girl swept the floor with a pine-fashioned broom; and I found myself crossing over into my own childhood.

…There in the dusty field of a Colorado playground, I used the tip of my shoe to draw the outline of a house, in the frontier world of Laura Ingalls Wilder…

It was only a moment, but it was enough to remind me of the magic of childhood. I tread gently through the woods this day, so as not to disturb the children’s reverie, and so that I too might take a drink from their eternal spring.

Kelly Salasin, March 2006