Posted in Fathers, Fragile Life, Guest Posts

A Father’s Heart (guest post)

(A guest post. From a dad!!
Thank you, Colby Dix!!!)

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Photo: Colby Dix

“I cried today. It was real.

My son had a little piece of plastic in his ear and we were in the emergency room at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. I admit that I can be emotionally connected beyond the usual male stereotype, so this may not be that surprising. The thing was, just feeling that, and allowing it, so overwhelming when it came… It was something.

Because the extraction required sedation, my son was essentially conscious but zoned out in a ketamine haze. I winced while the proficient ENT specialist teased that foreign object out of hiding and removed it and I broke then even, feeling the deepest empathy for this blood of my blood. But that wasn’t all see; after it was done, he took a little time to re-awaken. To come back.

And his eyes were teary and glazed as they swam into focus to see me directly in front of him, concern in my own eyes and staring at the most important thing I can imagine. And as he recognized me, he sleepily said “I love you” with those teary eyes and I just let it go, responding in kind with a choked voice. How could I not?

Often in life I speak to the benefit of failure, in terms of learning and growing. But I seem to forget that I can learn a great deal from success as well. My most successful achievement, by far, is this little boy, and I’m exquisitely proud of him on the daily. And in that moment, with my heart aching to connect as completely as possible, I realized that my capacity for love had grown yet again. That I hit another level. He made me better, smarter and more aware in an instant.

Sure, this is a common enough tale. Young child sticks something in their ear, nose, whatever. But even in it’s commonality, there is so much to be gained. I’m thankful, and a little tired from it. I’m not saying this to land any great parable or nugget of wisdom. I just want to acknowledge it, because it makes me happy. Happy to be here. He’s the best.”

~Colby Dix

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

the fading of the kindergarten wall

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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 Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

the measure of success

My early life was bent on success. Born as the eldest of a generation and upheld as the example of all things fine, I led cousins in values and chewing gum expeditions and living room performances, until the age of 7, when life removed us from our family seat on the Atlantic, and took us west, alone, to the Rocky Mountains, where the limitations of love forced creativity, and led me to fashion my own entourage out of neighborhood clubs and backyard variety shows, festivals and fundraisers, until the wind beneath my wings crashed at the age of 14 upon the brutal death of the Queen, my paternal grandmother, Lila.

I dabbled then in darkness, and folly, for a long, long time, until I found myself in love, truly in love, of my own volition, at the age of 22. And as with each of the beaus who came before, I screened this possible partner with my youngest siblings–in his ability to forgo his pursuit of me in attention to them–with humor and kindness. He passed. With flying colors. His predecessor was also a child-loving man, but when it came to considering our own offspring, we argued, at great lengths, upon the manner of discipline and permission and authenticity which ultimately led to the dissolution of this relationship or should have; and either way, it ended badly, and prepared the way for the right man to become the father of my legacy.

DSC02294Sons. I always imagined a daughter. My Lila. But my mother warned that daughters would demand too much drama for no-nonsense me. So sons it was. Two. Lloyd and Aidan. Old Grey-One and Fiery One. And beneath the gift of these children, my trajectory of success took its final dive as it collapsed into diapers and nursing and playdates and carpooling.

The Old Grey-One is now at the tail end of his teenage years, but it was his approach of adolescence when I set out to rediscover my own prowess–desperate to call something mine. There were many forays that led to deadening ends, until I found my treasure buried right beneath me, in my words, first begun when I was at the tail end of my own teens, destructive as they were.

Several blogs and dozens of inner (and outer) journeys later, I find myself scrambling up the steep cliff of completing a work of memoir. A quiet task. Silent really. Lonely. Unknown. Unaccounted for. With no guarantee, of anything, particularly–success.

And yet, successful is how I feel this Autumn though the harvest belongs to my son–as I release him with his backpack and his passport, into the security line for a flight to Central America; and watch as he snakes his way toward the narrow passage which delivers his life–to him.

 

Posted in Milestone Moments, Teens

The Little House & Me

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Do you know the story of The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton?  It’s a book published in the forties with a sweet little house on the cover and a big contented sun on the back. It’s been a lifetime favorite of mine.  (What more could a long-ago child want?)

The story begins like this:

Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country.  She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built.

Her-story continues as the Little House watches the seasons pass from her hill in the country and is soon surrounded by a village, and then a town, and finally—by a city–where she is so crowded in by buildings that she can no longer see the sun or the moon.

The Little House becomes shabby and misses the apple trees and daisies that once grew around her.  No one wants her anymore.

I pulled this thin paperback off my child’s crowded shelves with the others that he had grown too old to enjoy.  But rather than pack The Little House with the rest, I placed her on my writing table, sensing that her story and mine were somehow aligned.

Once upon a time, I was a little girl, pretty and strong, living in the countryof childhood.  There were daisies and apple trees and plenty of spaces to grow and imagine and thrive.  But as the seasons passed, thoughts moved in and troubles and worries crowded out the moon and the sun –and soon, I grew shabby too.

So shabby perhaps that my own father decides to travel during the week that I have planned to visit my family at their seaside home.

I sit on the porch of my own Little House in the mountains and sob, wondering how I have become so unworthy.  It’s true, that at 45, I am an old daughter, with chipped paint and crooked shutters, but so is my father, older and shabbier still.

My son finds me on the porch, and sits beside me in my grief, placing his hand on my shoulder.

After I finish sobbing, I tell him that he might be ready to have a girlfriend after all. (Just the day before, I read from a book on teens that young men aren’t comfortable enough with the intimacy required to be in a relationship.  In less than 24 hours, he’s proven that wrong.)

At 14, this same son, leans over my bent neck at the dinner table and kisses me before heading to the sink with dishes.  It’s an act of tenderness that ripples through my heart and sorrow. He hasn’t kissed me of his own accord in years—and never on the neck like a man might do.  I am both touched and shakened by his sweet and mature response to grief.  I begin to feel less shabby.

It is the great-great-grand daughter of the man who built the pretty Little House who comes to retrieve her from the crowded city.  She puts the Little House on wheels and takes her over the big roads and the little roads until they are back in the country.

So must I find my worth–not among my father’s crowded life–but in the wide open expanse of love that surrounds me when I move away from troubled thoughts.

As the Little House settled down on her new foundation, she smiled happily. The stars twinkled above her…A new moon was coming up… Once again she was lived in and taken care of.