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.
I’m not sure if it’s #45 or #metoo or Menopause, but suddenly I have access to something I never had before and it’s something which I expend too easily like the first paycheck in my kid’s pocket.
“Don’t be a fucking idiot!”
A few weeks back, I spewed this at him.
(This, in a household, where I’ve long drawn a fierce line at: Shut up.)
Actually, a stream of sentences with fuck (highlighted in various forms) came out of my 54-year-old mouth, one after the other, none of which I could entirely recollect afterward–a sure sign of trance–but not one I’d so fully occupied before.
Not just at the behavior at hand, or the accumulated attitude of his adolescent years or that combined with his older brother’s (and even their father’s) but all the ways that all women/mothers/wives are maligned for the same things for which we are relied upon.
“I’m sorry that I put that all on you,” I said to my son when he returned from hitting the speed bag in the basement.
But what I didn’t regret was the line that I had drawn, and that I will now draw forevermore, and which I appreciate that he also drew for me:
While our 17-year-old set out to march, my husband and I opted for our regular Saturday morning practice on the mat, surprised and touched to find our longtime teacher speaking to the day’s events, not just at the opening of class but into the practice, naming the young voices he admired so much–Emma Gonzales and David Hogg–and choking up as he talked about the Stoneman Douglass Ice Hockey team, so that I when I found myself, supine, in Baddha Konasana–hips and heart wide open–tears slid down & around my cheeks, and into my hair, and onto my mat, without thought, without attachment or emotion, and continued as I came into a twist, and later, off the mat, and into the day, I was struck again, as I was on Valentines Day, at how precious the sight of each and every teenager, and I understood that it is not only our relationship with masculinity and guns that will be transformed but our hatred of our young as they come of age.
Once the weather grows cold we often prepare soup for breakfast. On Sunday, a butternut squash with mushrooms. To the small bowl he served himself, my son added not one but 4 pieces of buttered toast, dismissing my raised eyebrows by marveling over the invention of bread, “Who was the first to think of this,” he said, “It must have been life changing,” which left me marveling over the synchronicity of the poem of the day read by Garrison Keillor on the The Writer’s Almanac.
Bread and Butter
I often wonder how people figured things out—simple things like bread and butter. How did the first person know to grind and knead and bake, to milk and skim and churn? How did someone realize they could soak olives in lye or let grape juice ferment inside casks of oak? How, when we first leaned toward each other, did our tongues know to touch before our brains knew we were going to kiss at all?
I’m scrambling an egg for my daughter.
“Why are you always whistling?” she asks.
“Because I’m happy.”
And it’s true,
Though it stuns me to say it aloud;
There was a time when I wouldn’t
Have seen it as my future.
It’s partly a matter
Of who is there to eat the egg:
The self fallen out of love with itself
Through the tedium of familiarity,
Or this little self,
So curious, so hungry,
Who emerged from the woman I love,
A woman who loves me in a way
I’ve come to think I deserve,
Now that it arrives from outside me.
Everything changes, we’re told,
And now the changes are everywhere:
The house with its morning light
That fills me like a revelation,
The yard with its trees
That cast a bit more shade each summer,
The love of a woman
That both is and isn’t confounding,
And the love
Of this clamor of questions at my waist.
Clamor of questions,
You clamor of answers,
Here’s your egg.
I wrote about the sluggishness that came in the aftermath of my son’s initiation… into the family… tragedy. But I didn’t explain that I was equally weighed down by the residue of a respiratory infection. Loitering congestion. In my ears and throat and lymph nodes.
I realize now that this led me to the provocative image that I chose for the piece–or that chose me. After the piece was published, the image continued to play with my consciousness and I found myself responding to a request on Facebook:
Ok, Saturday-night-stay-in’s – if you post a picture i will write a poem about it. Just say, “Hi dug- pic poem, please.”
Kelly Salasin’s Kill Strategy
a pic poem by dug Nap (For Kelly)
Anytime she’s not so sure kelly always goes for the jugular
I was stunned by the violence of this tiny piece. Had the artist read my article? Was he judging me? Why hadn’t he taken a scientific angle on this anatomic study–which could have been on the kitchen table, on any given morning, of my childhood, before my father left for the operating room.
When I went in to see the doctor last week, she put me on the table, and massaged down my throat, coaxing toxins from my lymph nodes.
I hadn’t realized that I was so filled.
Until my son read a single line from the email he received from the relative.
(He refused to let me hear more.)
He was writing back.
I grabbed his laptop. I pleaded:
“Please don’t respond again. She’ll only be more venomous. She can’t handle boundaries.”
My son was amused by my passion. He insisted that I didn’t need to worry. That he would be okay.
So I shared the spontaneous visions that were occurring in my mind’s eye on his behalf:
Tearing flesh with fanged teeth.
Ripping jugular veins as a three-headed beast.
Becoming a thousand insects, devouring her brain.
Faced with the mythical proportions of his mother’s protective instinct, he turned toward his father, and calmly challenged his aloofness:
“Where are your feelings,” he asked.
“I am so used to this,” my husband said.
“But she cc-ed you on the Goddamn email,” my son said. “She fucking invited you to watch as she kicked your son in the face.”
My husband remained silent.
I was quieted too by my inability to help.
We went to bed numb.
As I settled under the covers, it occurred to me that my vision could potentially injure the Other, so I mustered metta to send to the One who had attacked my child.
A week has since passed, but the meditation on toxicity continues to force itself into another day. This morning, a Mary Oliver line comes to mind:
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
3:36 pm. The school bus stops at our driveway, across from the pond, but no one gets off.
Our youngest, 14, has just, this very moment, touched down in Liberia, Costa Rica with his Junior High classmates.
When his older brother made the same trip a handful of years ago, I was a wreck; but he was only 12.
Still, I’ve splintered this entire day checking the status updates of Jet Blue and the posts in our parent Facebook group.
We brought our kids to school last night at 2:30 in the morning, and gathered in the parking lot in front of the bus until everyone arrived. We chatted like it was normal to be there, in the dark, in the middle of the night, hanging out. Someone joked about getting breakfast, and we all felt the pull of longing after a long winter that has protracted itself into spring.
The yellow school bus heading to JFK, manned by their classroom teacher, pulled out, on time, at 3:00 am, and two sets of parents cheered. Not for the kids. But for us. We were heading home childless. For 9 days!
By the time I got in the car though, the emptiness overtook me, and when I crawled back into bed, my mind skipped from thought to thought and wouldn’t let me rest.
Aidan graduates this June. People dismiss elementary school graduations as excessive and unnecessary, but they are truly poignant in our community. This particular rite of passage comes after 12+ years with the same peers before splintering off to a number of different public and private schools in the area. (Our town doesn’t have a high school so the tax dollars are applied to a school of choice.)
The graduation is also distinguished by the school itself. Completing your tenure at Marlboro Elementary is a one of a kind experience–steeped in ritual, initiation, rigor and love.
At the graduation ceremony itself, the students proceed through a canopy of teachers and staff joining hands above them; and then the students take the podium to host the ceremony themselves, even secretly choosing the guest speaker in the months before hand.
Theirs is a combined class of 7th and 8th graders, so it’s the families of the youngers who host the reception afterward; and the next day, these 7th graders return to their classroom, on their own, to greet the upcoming sixth graders.
Prior to the graduation ceremony, other rituals take place:
the reading of poetry from their own kindergarten days in the company of the current kindergarten class;
the weekly literature tea followed by an annual game of croquet–with students dressed in their finest hats and light colored clothing (a sight rarely seen in these parts);
a hands-on tie-tying examination which is a longtime rite of passage at Marlboro Elementary;
a private Consortium for graduates and their families where 8th graders step up to the podium in the Town Hall, built in 1822, to share an exemplary personal essay;
a portfolio presentation where an individual graduate (assisted by a 7th grade classmate) presents his best work from each of her years at the school to his parents and select teaching staff;
a Cabaret, put on by the Junior High, and held in the evening, in the theater at Marlboro College;
and my favorite–the last All School Sing–highlighting the favorite songs of the graduates at the final all school gathering.
This past Monday, feeling the departure of my son on the horizon, I attended the weekly All School Sing, and sat across the room from the boy who once insisted on sitting on my lap, and then at my feet, and then just a few bodies away.
Now he has his own chair in the outer circle with the adults while his younger peers take a spot inside the circle on the floor.
I look over at my son from time to time to see if he sees me, but his focus is on his peers until one of our favorite songs is sung: Kindergarten Wall.
I imagine that I began punctuating the lines, “CLEAN UP YOUR MESS,” to his older brother long before I began turning toward Aidan with them; and it’s become a family joke; a duel of sorts; particularly as Aidan turns the song back in my direction with his own emphasis of a handful of lines, punctuating the “grownups”:
But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget…
I am relieved to see that at 14, Aidan still plays along, even from across the room; although now he does so with his eyes more than his voice. After school, he reminds me that the part directed to adults is a whole section long; and I smile, happy for the connection, with a tinge of loss, knowing that has already left the messy stage of childhood and had has headed into the foolishness of aging.
The last song sung was another family favorite, one which is always shared at the Sing before the Junior High takes their bi-annual trip abroad:
Leaving on a Jet Plane
Long mistaken as Peter, Paul & Mary’s, my boys and I know to whom this song belongs.
Their sixth grade teacher, a jazz lover, detests John Denver’s crooning, so we make a point to emphasize that this is his song; and David makes a point to leave the room.
Last year, Aidan argued at great lengths with his music teacher about it. She finally conceded in a phone message to our house that evening: “Aidan was right; but Peter, Paul and Mary were the ones to make it famous.”
As we sing, “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go…” a lump forms in my throat, just as Aidan motions for me to turn toward the back of the room where David is departing.
I smile and simultaneously realize that Aidan and I have sung in this room together since he was a babe in arms. We sang Leaving on Jet Plane to every class since then.
But when that school bus pulls back into the parking lot next week after midnight, there will only be a few All School Sings left between us.
When I was a little kid not so long ago
I had to learn a lot of stuff I didn’t even know
How to dress myself, tie my shoes, how to jump a rope
How to smile for a picture without looking like a dope
But of all the things I learned my favorite of them all
Was a little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall
Of all you learn here remember this the best:
Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess
Take a nap everyday, wash before you eat
Hold hands, stick together, look before you cross the street
And remember the seed in the little paper cup:
First the root goes down and then the plant grows up!
Well, it was first, second, third grade, fourth grade, too
Where I had to learn the big things the big kids do
To add, subtract, and multiply, read and write and play
How to sit in a little uncomfortable desk for nearly half a day
But of all they taught me my favorite of them all
Was the little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall
But lately I’ve been worried as I look around and see
An awful lot of grown-ups acting foolish as can be
Now I know there’s lots of things to know I haven’t mastered yet
But it seems there’s real important stuff that grown-ups soon forget
So I’m sure we’d all be better off if we would just recall
That little poem hanging on the kindergarten wall
Now that my boys are bigger than me, I turn my attention toward my younger nieces and soak up their delicious feminine company.
Last week, nine year old Marlo gave me Barbie lessons which were–I have to tell you–simply brilliant.
I sat down beside her in the playroom, and confessed, as one is apt to do with Marlo:
“I don’t know how to play. I’m not very good at it.”
“Oh, you’ve just forgotten,” she assured me, sizing up my anxiety, “I’ll teach you. It’s really simple.”
And thus, I proceeded to receive remedial Barbie lessons which left me wishing that Marlo had been around when my boys were young so that she could have broken down playing with trucks in manageable, adult-friendly steps.
“First, you choose a Barbie,” Marlo began, pushing a large bin toward me. (Which was no small feat as I rummaged through a large collection of legs and hair entwined in an orgy of pale plastic.)
“Then, you decide what she’ll wear, and you start dressing her,” Marlo continued.
As I began to sort through another bin of miniature clothing and high heels, Marlo stopped me to develop my skills. “Take a look at this,” she said, pointing to the Barbie that she had dressed. “Why do you think I chose this outfit for her? What do you notice about her?”
I stammered and sputtered. The woman had long, wild red hair and I was afraid to say something inappropriate.
Marlo helped me out, leading me with answers, and soon enough, I began to enjoy assembling an outfit for my own doll; which was surprising, because I take very little pleasure in dressing myself.
In fact, I was so thrilled with my final fashion statement, which involved 4 top layers, including a flannel shirt and a sequined tank top, that I went downstairs to show my husband and my sister.
When we returned from the mini fashion show, Marlo complimented my work profusely before directing my attention to the next step; but I was distractedly photographing my art from every angle.
Marlo coaxed me back to the play at hand: “The next thing you need do is decide where your doll is going; and then you start talking about it.”
I decided that my doll was a Marine Biologist who was going to the library to research marine mammals despite her shiny jacket and silver go go boots.
I thought this career focus would impress Marlo and raise the bar on Barbie play, but she took my doll’s credentials in stride and made casual conversation between her Barbie and mine.
“The thing about playing Barbies,” Marlo explained, “is that it’s really helpful–for real life. You get to try things things. You can work out problems–without having to talk about them.”
I pulled out the small pad I kept in my purse in order to take notes. (Or maybe I only made mental notes because I can’t find them now.)
“Can you repeat the part about how helpful it is to play with Barbies,” I asked.
“Keep playing,” Marlo said, and then she suggested that I would need additional lessons.