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)

Posted in College, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

What’s Next?

My oldest son turns 18 today so this becomes my first post in a brand new chapter of posts on the Empty(ing) Nest Diary.

Photo from his first vacation. Without us.
Photo from his first vacation. Without us.

Only I don’t know what to call this chapter…

Parenting Adults

That seems misdirected.

Adult Children

Ominous.

????

It’s odd to think that the seed for this Empty(ing) Nest blog was planted in the hours after my son was born when I reached down in the shower to wrap my arms around a hollow belly.

A month later, I realized the immensity of the separation that stretched out before us.

But those moments of prescience were obscured by years, and months, and days, and hours–of devotion and attention and connection–and BIG LOVE.

This morning, the birthday boy and his girlfriend read through the tiny hand-bound book of quotes that I recorded from the mouth of that preschooler who heads to college next week.

“Wow, parenting a teenager must be awful!” my son said.

“What do you mean?” I asked, feigning confusion.

“It sounds like I really liked you when I was little.”

“Yep,” I said.

He took his girlfriend’s hand and headed up the stairs, and I put on some blues…

The thrill is gone

The thrill is gone away for good…

Free, free, free now baby…

I’m free for good.

Now that’s it all over,

All I can do is wish you well.

Who knew that the blues could speak to mothers, but they do…

I tried to get a head start on this empty nest thing years ago when my son first entered adolescence. I thought if I wrote about it, ahead of it all,  it would be easier, like having an epidural.  But 47 posts on Teens later, I still feel the pain of this impending separation.

I feel it when I shop for his toiletries. I feel it when I kiss him goodnight. I feel it when I look at his younger brother, who has just turned 13 himself.

It’s too early to pour a glass of chardonnay so I turn toward the issue of laundry. My 18 year old’s laundry. At college.

For days now, I’ve been plagued with worry…

What kind of laundry basket should he have at school?

What would serve as an inviting receptacle, and also a means of transport to the laundry room, and then back again, folded, to be placed in drawers?

This preoccupation of mine is odd for so many reasons, but mainly because:

I stopped doing my son’s laundry when he was 5,

and because my son currently leaves his clothes strewn across the floor,

washes them only when he needs underwear,

(or when he can’t afford to buy any more shirts,)

and then leaves his clean laundry in the washer–for hours,

followed by the dryer–for days,

Until it is coaxed along by strident parental pleas,

after which he leaves it in the laundry basket,

Until someone else needs the basket,

and grumbling, dumps the laundry on his bed,

Where it Remains…

Until it slides back onto the floor

Whence it came.

“Why don’t we wait until I get there and see what I works?” my son says.

He was always practical like this, even as a toddler. (It’s annoying.)

I’ll never forget the first time he called me on my parental misguided-ness:

Why do you want to yell about sneakers?

I hear the keys jingle by the door, so I stop him to ask:

“Where are you off to?”

“To get a lottery ticket,” he says.

I join in on brainstorming a list of all the other things he can in town now that he’s 18:

Buy cigars

Shop at  Life’s Little Luxuries

Enter the adult section of the video store

Be charged as adult for a crime

“I should have done something bad yesterday when I was still 17,” he said.

“Don’t forget to vote,” I add, as he heads out the door.

As much as I’ve loved this kid, I don’t want to Parent an Adult or know an Adult Child; so I think I’ll stay open to what this new chapter brings.

Kelly Salasin, August 15, 2013

Note: This is the first post in the “What’s Next?” Category.

Posted in Fragile Life

Sea of Miracles

for Jesse and Susannah

“And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles.”

Walt Whitman

I want to write about miracles, but I don’t know how. There must be some outstanding event from my blessed life to retell, but no single moment splashes up for attention. Has my life been without the miraculous? Indeed, no. It has been so flooded with miracles that I cannot distinguish a single one… until I take what comes.

This past winter, a young friend of ours died of Leukemia. His name was Jesse and he was 19 years old. My family and I rode out the month of December with him in prayers and rituals and tears.

Tucked under our Christmas tree was a book entitled, The Way WE Work. Driven to comprehend blood and bone marrow as Jesse’s deteriorated, our bedtime reading ritual was heightened. We delved into a greater understanding of this amazing human body, and I was struck- STRUCK- by how absolutely miraculous our bodies are. In comparison, the miracle of Jesse’s recovery seemed a simple request.

When we got word, just after the holiday, that “Jesse wasn’t going to make it,” I wondered about prayers. So many had been sent from so far that I didn’t understand how they could be left unanswered. Were they gathered there outside the hospital doors, unable to get in? Did the Critical Care Unit refuse them? Did God or Jesse have some other unimaginable plans?

My son Aidan, age 8, couldn’t bear the news and ran up to his room sobbing. We all joined him on his bed in silence until he lifted his head from his pillow and demanded, “HOW can they be sure Jesse is going to die?!”

In the face of all of our bright hopes, it was a heartbreaking thing to answer. “Death is like a birth,” I began, tentatively. “There are signs that a baby is coming and there are signs that a body is ending. No one is certain of the exact time, but they know when it is imminent.”

Through all of our tears, I whispered again that death and birth were–both–truly miraculous; and though unfathomably painful, it was also quite beautiful that Jesse’s mother and father would be with him when he left this world as they were when they welcomed him into it.

As is the Jewish custom, friends and family sit with the body after death until the time of burial. At an hour when we would typically be heading up to bed, my family walked outside into the hushed snow and drove twenty minutes to town. We arrived at the funeral home just before 9:00 pm under a bright full moon and took our place beside the pine box that held Jesse’s body. We brought Rumi and lullabies and sat in sacred silence before turning over Jesse’s care to his grandmother and aunts–and finally to Lisa, his mother.

It was a magical night, holy, like Christmas Eve–perched as it was on the threshold of life and death. The next bitterly cold afternoon, we stood atop a mountain and buried the beautiful box with Jesse under the earth. Shovel upon shovel, upon fistful and tears. Aidan snuck a clump of dirt from the pile and brought it home with him through the deep snow. We lit the yellow candles we had burned for Jesse each night since the New Year; and this time, we let them burn out.

Emptied in our grief, we did not find the one shining miracle we had wanted; that one defining moment that could shape a story so spectacularly such as this for you. It’s the story I had imagined retelling… the one where Jesse recovers and goes off to college like he dreamed. Because of prayers. Because of a miracle.

Who knows how miracles work… when they come and when they don’t! Isn’t it the job of a miracle to fit our expectations?! Aren’t miracles measured by specific outcomes, or is it by something else… by their effect, maybe?

If the latter is the truest account, than Jesse’s life and Jesse’s death were one and the same–miraculous.

As I type these words this morning, snow falls and falls and falls upon soft spring roads. Pondering life through my tears, I don’t know where to end this unlikely tale of miracles. Until the phone rings…

It is my sister, three thousand miles away, announcing the birth of her daughter, Susannah.

Another miracle splashes into my life…

Kelly Salasin, 2009

(To read the amazing letter that Jesse’s mother wrote and read at the unveiling of his headstone, click here.)