Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Teens, Twenty-something

Money Troubles

klimt-mother-and-childI’m having money trouble. On the inside.

I thought the pain in my stomach tracked back to summer’s surrender to fall (when my mid-life chocolate consumption spiked from a bar a month to a desperate nibble every shrinking hour of the day); but after some in-depth chakra exploration this afternoon, I realize that the pain came on last spring–as my self-employment income plummeted.

I’ve since restructured the budget, and found a greater place of ease; but my stomach is still talking.

I listen in more closely.

It flashes back… to a young mother, sitting at the top of the stairs, after a long day home alone, with an infant.

I’m weeping.
Or I want to weep.

“I don’t remember my last paycheck,” I say.

Twenty years later this seems a silly thing.
And a curious one.

It’s hard to remember a time when I was defined by a paycheck. I’ve spent so many years now prioritizing home and family that income has grown comfortable in the back seat.

In fact, when I sit down to shape my goals for 2016, I find that my visions flow easily, until I get to the category entitled: finances.

I try, but I can’t even begin to wish for more. I don’t know how. I feel wrong.

Apparently I’ve exchanged fear of not having enough to fear of having too much.

This is further complicated by my long established role in the home. Instead of bread winner, I’ve been budget maker, deal finder, abundance-shaper.

I keep thinking there will come a time when my role is no longer necessary, but as the kids come of age, it seems just as relevant, in new and different ways.

Over the years as a parent, I’ve chosen to have less, so that we can have more.

Can I have both?
More income and more…
What is the other more?

More me. More family. More connection. More values. More alignment. More passion. More contribution.

With this insight, comes release.
A big exhale.
A softening of the belly.

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Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, School, Takes a Village, Teens, Wisdom of Youth

the fading of the kindergarten wall

DSCN2882
Aidan at the bus stop, with his luggage.

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.

3:00 am
3:00 am

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.
sadly, the only photo I can find of Aidan and me at All School Sing
sadly, the only photo I can find of Aidan and me at All School Sing–a dancing day

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.”

a classroom, transformed
a classroom, transformed

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.

Kindergarten Wall

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

CHORUS:

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

Chorus

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

Chorus

©1988 by John McCutcheon. Published by Appalsongs (ASCAP).

Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, New Mother, Teens

Resenting Motherhood

Photo0283Last week, my seventeen year-old son broke his toe in a game of frisbee. Suddenly he was home, on the couch, instead of at school or at work or out with friends; and he wanted my connection and support.

I treasured this gift of time with him, but I also resented it; and I’m not sure why.

…Maybe it’s because he already takes so much for granted, making any additional requests outlandish.

…Maybe it’s because the last time that I really needed him–when my husband and I were simultaneously struck down by the flu–he abandoned me, following days and nights of tenderly caring for him;

Both of these points are accurate, and miss the point. I know this because the body doesn’t lie.
And mine’s been screaming.
Up the right side of my rib cage.

So I show up.
Here.
On this blog.
And listen:

…I feel angry.

…I feel my father’s rage–with me–when I was my son’s age.

…We fought about bedtimes and laundry and who was the boss–but what we were really engaged in–is the excruciating shedding of roles.

I must be shedding now too. My skin has been itchy for weeks. Maybe ever since my son decided upon a college.

But I don’t focus on that. I narrow in on his increasing lack of respect, contribution, consideration and caring.

“If you weren’t my son, I’d break up with you,” I say.

“Why?” he asks, sounding concerned.

“Because I would never let another man treat me this way.”

“How do I treat you?” he asks, sounding hurt.

And then I realize,

…We aren’t living in the same world,

…Or speaking the same language,

…Or seeing the same things anymore.

This isn’t fair!

Fairness is where I always get stuck.

How is it fair that he sleeps here (all day), and eats here (some of the time) and relies on us and our provision in so many ways, but so easily dismisses what we need: like respect for our resources and time and patience by not using 6 towels in one week and leaving them scattered on his floor, wet, among candy wrappers and clothing and god knows what else, and then calls me from school to go look for something he left behind.

“Just don’t look in the bottom drawer, Mom.”

(I do.)

Ironically, he has chosen a college room-mate based on this characteristic: “I just can’t live with someone who is going to trash our place.”

(This makes me want to cackle and curse him with the sloppiest room-mate on Earth.)

Oh! And last month, when he took OUR car to Canada with his buddies, he cleaned it from top to bottom–BEFORE they left; and returned it… you know how.

And work? He gives them 150%.

And even with an injury, he can’t miss his game this afternoon to pick up his brother so that I can go to the doctors for this excruciating pain on my right side–the pain that won’t let me bend forward or backward or even turn side to side; even though we dropped everything to help him with his… toe.

I get it. I do. I know he’s transferring all of his good nature, his passion, his consideration–to the world outside of his family; but does he have to be so cliché?

I’ve parented out of the box these past years; can’t he grow up out of it too?

He just called.
He forgot his sneakers.
Could I drop them off on my way to the doctor’s appointment (the one that I had to arrange alternate coverage for) so that he doesn’t have to wear his hikers to “watch” his game?

…Seriously?

It does no good to point out the absurdity of his request. I am in a one-sided relationship. Only he isn’t a bundle of joy gazing lovingly into my eyes like the sun rises and sets on my face.  Nope, I am the dark cloud obstructed his obliviously sunny sky. Unless he needs something. Then he pours it on. And I feel like a door mat.

(I leave the sneakers behind.)

But if I really listen to the pain in my ribcage, the one that makese it hard to breath,  there’s something more…

…That evening, when he was home, in the living room, like he used to be, and he asked me to come over to the couch so that he could show me something on his computer; and I sighed, put down my work, and shimmied in beside him, something happened…

…As he hit play, my attention narrowed, not on the screen, but to…

…Our bodies

…Touching.

From shoulder to foot, I felt the heat of his body and mine; and in a flash, I remembered everything… the longing I felt for him to come into my life, the preciousness of his growth inside my belly, the tenderness with which I anticipated his newborn needs, the day-to-day companionship of our early years at home together.

I felt a stabbing pain in my third eye as I returned my attention to the computer in front of me where my 17 year-old was sharing a cover of one of our favorite songs, sung by a group of Norwegians (with bad haircuts):

I noticed that we raised our eyebrows at just the same time, and then grinned in the same moments, and then turned toward each other and nodded, just as the voice of the last vocalist swept it away.

I always thought of this song as epic, as biblical, as archetypal–between a man and love. But today, I hear a mother’s story. And I feel the excruciating finality of what has been a soul-consuming journey…

Maybe there’s a god above
And all I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you

And it’s not a cry you can hear at night,
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Motherhood is such holy work, and I fail, again and again, to keep the sacred front and center. I was good at holding onto him when he needed that, but I’m not sure how to let go; or at least how to do both at the same time…

But baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya

And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

What do I do when that little boy, who held my hand and talked to me about life: “Where do faces go when we die? Does the sun know everything?” “Can I marry you when I grow up?” reappears beside me, with thick hairy legs, and a voice deeper than his father’s…

Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya

She tied you to her kitchen chair
And she broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

This is labor, I think.
This is the ripping apart of two souls.
Just as it was at birth…

There was a time
You let me know
What’s real and going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?

And remember when I moved in you?
The holy dark was moving to
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

I remember the first time he moved in me, and how we became one, until he grew so large inside that he began to press under that same right rib, until it hurt so badly that I could hardly breath, and I wanted him gone, and when he was, I ached that he was no longer there, inside me…

Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?

Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I love you, Lloyd. I’m so sad you’re gone. I can’t believe you’re still here. I don’t know how to live without you. I don’t know how to live with you. I don’t know how to let you go and love you at the same time.

But I’ll keep trying.

Kelly Salasin, Mothers Day 2013

ps. Dad, sorry for playing the piano that night beneath your bedroom.

Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Teens

Two Paths Diverged

I was relieved to find myself awake at 3:00 am in order to realize that the tragedy of what I had enacted was only a dream.  But that didn’t help me shake the trauma.

After checking to make sure that my son was safely asleep in his bed, I reluctantly woke my husband to soften the burden of my nightmare.  Even now, it hurts to retell it.

We had pimped our younger son so that we could attend some affair. It was only a single time and we were paid well for it, but the anguish on my ten year old’s face afterward was heartbreaking; and when I put him in the shower to wash away the disgrace, he complained of a sharp pain that felt like a knife in his buttocks.

What were we thinking,” I hissed to my husband.  “We could go to jail.  How could we do something like this?”

Larionov,visipix.com

This is so far from any reality that my husband and I would ever create, but that doesn’t matter.  The dream was that strong.

No one needed to interpret this one.  We both knew what it meant, right away.  I had a job interview in the morning, and I was afraid of what this new position would mean for our family–particularly my younger son.

I finally drifted back into a troubled sleep around 5:00 am; this time dreaming of my teen.

I had returned home to see him, realizing that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to connect; but no matter how I tried I couldn’t find him in the house.

There were escalators and staircases and doors, but just as I arrived to the place where he would be, his friends told me that I had missed him.  He had left in the time that it took me to get here.

Isn’t it convenient when our dreams are so transparent? Isn’t it terrifying when we realize just how deeply we our connected to our kids–and how fragile that connection can be?

The funny thing is that I’ve always worked.  I’ve just never found a position that might capture my heart and soul in a way that has me looking toward the future–without them.

This is the tenth post that I’ve written in ten days around the tectonic shifts this consideration has evoked in me.  All of these are posted on my Life Path series, but this post distinctly belonged here.

Gaugin, visipix.com

This post is about saying goodbye to one rich role in exchange for another.  It’s not a goodbye that will happen today or next week or even next year; but the seed has been planted and the roots are digging deep, and I’ve always known, that this love story, of mother and son, would some day diverge on different paths.

Kelly Salasin, November 2010

Click: TWO OWLS CALLING, for my blog on my personal path.

Posted in Mid-Life Mama

Hormonal Coup

Yesterday, I was concerned to find myself spun around by spending the afternoon with my tween.  Sure, his injury meant that I had to interrupt my work on two consecutive days–plus loose some sleep–But why couldn’t I relax into our time together?

Van Gogh, from Drawings (visipix.com)

Are we that mismatched?

Is he that difficult?

Have I enabled such a challenging personality?

Or is it me?

With grown children, am I so accustomed to days spent alone, that an afternoon at the doctor’s office–and a “date” at the bakery–is too much parental contact?

This morning it all becomes clear.   As I face the messes in the kitchen and shout to my son to chase after the bus, I realize that I am completely–and inexplicably–unglued.

And then it hits me:

Someone has taken over my flight. It was a covert operation yesterday, but this morning–it is a total coup.

My plane is banking left and heading sharply toward the ground.

Arabic (visipix.com)

Hormones!

This explains everything. I’m about to get my period–and I’m 46–a potentially “lethal” combination.

Where is that Red Tent when I need it?

When the school calls to tell me that my son did make the bus–but adds that I’ll have to come in to administer the antibiotics he needs— I want to cry.

Instead I pull down the oxygen mask and prepare for a rough landing.

I’m back in the pilot’s seat–and that makes all the difference.

Kelly Salasin

(To read other pieces on parenting at mid-life, click here.)