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 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 Mid-Life Mama, Nuts & Bolts, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

a boy and his vacuum


I’ve either done something right or terribly wrong.

Our very first vacuum was an Electrolux from our Wedding Registry, 1990. It was with us through our move to Vermont, through the birth of two kids, and into the home we built together.

Our oldest was 15 & youngest 10 when we had to replace our old pal. The kids were ecstatic. I was alarmed.

Should kids be this happy about a new vacuum?

Did this mean they were too involved in housekeeping?

Or were their lives unduly deprived of new things?

We did lead a very frugal life. I did expect them to be full participants in caring for the home we shared. Maybe I had gone too far.

Fast forward 7 years…

We’ve been without a vacuum for over a month now. It’s the second time this new Electrolux has stopped working. My husband and our youngest have been in a stalemate over how to move forward.

Repair–for this machine whose life was a quarter of that of its predecessor; or
Replace–and with what? Another Electrolux? Something new?

My husband wanted to play it safe.

Our son, the high school engineer wanted something technologically advanced.

I finally intervened.

“He only has a few months left at home,” I said, “Let him have this.”

“Exactly,” my husband said. “Why should we get the vacuum he wants when he’s leaving.

The Dyson V7 HEPA arrived today. The moment I messaged him, Aidan wanted to leave school.

When he walked through the door at the end of the day, he went right to the boxes (which I had to promise that I would not open without him) and he began unpacking, affectionately examining each piece, and bringing them to me, one by one, to illustrate the technology and the design (are those two different things?), and particularly the interlocking components.

It looks like a Cuisinart to me.

I will never be able to operate it.

But right now I’m headed to my husband’s yoga class and by the time I get home, no doubt I’ll have clean floors again.

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mother to Crone, Takes a Village, Teens

Sleep entitlement

One of the things I most look forward to in my time apart from family is the opportunity to rediscover my own rhythms… with food and work and most of all (and particularly in the throes of this final hormonal coup) SLEEP.

Ahhh, to sleep through the night!
Without the torment of teenagers traipsing and a snoring bedfellow (with an aging prostate.)

But alas, 5 nights & counting, and it wasn’t meant to be.

There are many factors to blame for this injustice.

But there is also something else.

Curiosity.

How is it that I have come to expect that my sleep be insulated from the world around me—from the weather, from fellow human beings, from four-legged ones, from neighborhood celebrations, from worrying about the news and from the sounds of sudden middle of the night emergencies…

Who I am to deserve such isolation from the life we share?

When I was a young mother faced with friends & relatives who had schooled their infants into sleeping through the night (while my toddler was still woke to nurse), I read something that stuck with me:

“Parents and doctors aren’t entitled to sleep. Waking comes with the job.”

To be awakened.
Not a bad thing.

And so the same might be true of the homeless people who disturb my walks downtown, and the immigrants who disturb my sense of belonging, and the strangers who disturb my sense of community.

We are infinitely among.
How might we better abide this?

How might this abiding lend itself to a softer surrender into all that is and into a fiercer voice for that which truly shouldn’t be so–for anyone.

Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Round Two, Teens

Laundry day

Aidan & another insect. #laundryday 2017, Kelly Salasin

I borrowed my son from his bedroom for his height–to remove a grasshopper from the inside of the screen door off my bedroom.

He hesitates, so I press, “Just lift it up and put it outside!”

Aidan is absurdly afraid of spiders, but grasshoppers?

He is also an engineer.
(Well, a 17-year-old with an engineering mind.)

He taps the screen and the grasshopper jumps onto the glass door.

“Now what!” I say, aggravated with the delay, but he only smiles.

He quickly pulls the screen closed so that the bug is on the outside of the glass door without return access.

“Engineering,” he says, with pride.

Relieved, I return to folding laundry, but distracted, Aidan remains at the door, which has become a specimen jar–eye to eye.

“Come look!” he says.

But I am not interested in grasshoppers–the whole point was to get rid of the grasshopper. But this is his last year at home.

“Watch,” he says, giggling, as the grasshopper pulls down its antenna, like a girl playing with her hair.

Each time Aidan laughs, the grasshopper does it again.

“He must be a comedian,” I say.

“He’s looking right at us,” Aidan says.

“Doesn’t it seem like he’s wearing a metal shield on his head?”

“Exoskelton,” Aidan says.
(He is also a scientist.)

I don’t know how to get from this story to what I want to say.

It’s a leap, like the grasshopper made from the door back into the world.

I’m grateful for this pause with Aidan and the grasshopper for the way it reminds me to stop trying so hard.

Like the Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön says:

There’s a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, we would be happy.

I want to know this.
In my bones.