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)

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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 College, Insight, Teens, What's Next? (18 & beyond), Wisdom of Youth

Parenting bites…

With the nest almost empty now, my parenting insights come in shorter bits which I suppose is just about right as I turn more & more toward other things…

And yet, I’m learning that this role is the role of a lifetime…

~

Payback Theater

That rare night when he goes to bed before us. A dramatized rendition of what we endure night after night. Door latches. Stairs. Lights. A sudden desire to share scientific discoveries, insights, intimacies.

~

IN A FAMILY WAY

It’s such a comfort, this being a family. A buffer. An ease. A certainty. Sweet. Exhausting. Consuming. Distracting.

The silence, after, is deafening. Resurrecting. The original. Sin. Of separation. Abandonment. Mortality.

There is this larger family. This shared dwelling. This belonging.

There is this whole.

Past. Present. Future.

One.

~

OUR TURN

My state is proposing a 24-hour waiting period to buy a handgun.

Here’s an idea. Until this country figures out its shit when it comes to guns, men are unable to purchase them, and women are in charge of any firearms in the home. Furthermore, public funds are provided to women for firearm training and to provide the necessary equipment for safekeeping. Additionally, all new hires in positions that require firearms will be women until such time that a 50/50 gender balance is achieved in police departments, security teams, military personnel, etc. Public funding will also post armed women at every school, church, and each of the other venues that the men of our country frequent to kill people begrudgingly and at random.

You’ve had our vote, our money, our bodies. We’ll have your guns.

~

FROM THE MOUTH OF BABES

”It’s like the release of a new iPhone. Is it going to be good, and are we gonna like it, or is it just gonna be the same thing without a headphone jack?”

Our youngest, on the Mueller Report

~

APOCALYPSE

You know how if your kids are plugged in–at home or in the car–you gain some well-deserved solace, but it’s bittersweet because they’re checked out, like that rambunctious kid in your classroom on Ritalin, or the outlying boroughs of NYC, silenced by the seduction of indoor screens, or the neighborhood of my childhood on the base at West Point, the roads in front of the homes now three times as full with oversized SUVs obscurring the view of the Hudson, while the sidewalks and the playgrounds and the woods, once sprinkled with kids, are barren, even on a perfect July day, like the ghost town we visited when we lived in the Rockies, or the Apocalypse we inhabit now–quieted, distracted, consumed.

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!

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, 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 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.