.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kindred Souls





My mom is 88 years old, my daughter is 16. 
One was fresh from Sunday morning church services, 
the other from a Halloween birthday party sleepover.

They take my breath away.



Friday, October 29, 2010

Night Table



I was struck this evening by the particular arrangement of items at my mom's bedside. There are her land line phone and cell phone, since we have impressed on her that one should always be within her reach. And there are her Daily Word devotional and other prayer books, and a calendar with a daily meditation and scripture. The lamp base looks like a jeweled heirloom, the perfume bottle has a certain grace, and the lace cloth is something my mother crocheted herself, before her fingers grew too riddled with arthritis and she put down her crochet needles for good. There is a silk orchid in a sculpted vase, and at the center of it all, a photograph of the man she married, my father, back when she first met him, on a day when he was astride a motorcycle that belonged to his cousin.

These are the items that rest near her head as she sleeps. My father would have turned 87 years old last week Friday, on October 22. I think he is closer to my mother now than at any time since he died 14 years ago. My mother, who is getting very frail and stooped, whose voice is getting smaller and thinner, fully believes that she will see him again on the other side.

My mom has been talking a lot about dying. She says that when I hear she is gone, I am not to weep for her, that her life has been rich beyond measure. She will leave New York for Jamaica and my brother's house in a little more than a week. She has said many times in the last several weeks that she does not believe she will be coming back this way. It is hard to hear her say such things, and I have kept mentally pushing away what she has been trying to tell me. But tonight, looking at her bedside table, all of it quietly settled in.

One of my cousins is getting married in Jamaica in January, the same week as my mom's 89th birthday. My mother plans to be at the wedding. Tonight I decided that I will be there, too. I pray we have some time yet, and that I will use it consciously and well.

One more game to win it all

My daughter's soccer team won their semifinal game yesterday, 4-0, and are headed to the final Championship game on Monday! It is actually happening just the way my girl described it could. Her team is like that underdog team in high school sports movies who no one saw coming, and then they start winning and winning. Ooooh, I have goose bumps as I write this!

Despite work demands, my husband and I made it to the 3 p.m. game at Ichan Stadium, where my girl scored one of the four goals. It was a perfect blue day next to the river on the best soccer field in the city. Now our girls get to play on the really top-flight field! Did I mention that their usual field in Brooklyn is scattered with discarded wrappers, bottles and cans that they have to clear before every practice. Did I mention that the wealthy private school teams who travel there for home games are always appalled? Our girls are a scrappy bunch! 

They were ecstatic after yesterday's game, but their coach kept it modulated, their eyes on Monday's prize. The handful of parents were beaming with bewildered happiness: Who knew at the start of the season that we would be in this place? On Monday our team will play the winner of the game that was up after theirs, so the girls all trooped into the stands to watch and strategize. The two teams on the field looked pretty darn fast and fierce. They definitely won't roll over. Our girls will have to really win this thing. 

An interesting side note: My daughter's school this year hired a new director of athletics to oversee all the sports teams. According to my daughter, "He's doing a pretty good job actually." She says he's upped school spirit in simple and inexpensive ways, like buying paste on tattoos with the school's name and mascot that the girls all had on their cheeks yesterday. They also each had a maroon streak of color in their hair (maroon and white are their school colors). 

The athletic director is also renting fan buses for Monday's game so the girls will have a cheering section larger than the few parents who can manage to get away from work. And he instituted a superfan contest, which was a student card that got punched for each game attended, with the winners earning team jerseys at the end. And the part my girl likes best of all—swag! For the first time ever, in addition to their game uniforms, the girls got hoodies and sweatpants and jerseys with their team name and number on the front and surnames on the back. My daughter wears these items all the time at home these days. She even sleeps in her team gear. In the end, it all comes down to feeling as if their effort is valued. I think that new guy is onto something.

Update on November 2, 2010:
Our team lost last night, 3 goals to none, so they won't be bringing home the championship cup—this year. They played like champs, though, passing and dribbling with great ball control and really staying in the fight against a very strong and experienced team. Our girls just needed to take more shots on goal, to convert and finish. But they have an excellent goalie who is a freshman, and very few seniors, which means most of this team will be together again next year, so they can work on that. And they now know what it feels like to win, and they now know that they can. Look out world! Stay tuned. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Man

Happy birthday to the love of my life, a good man with a wry humor to whom I am lucky enough to be married and with whom I am parenting our children. I used to say that if we'd started sooner, I could have had ten children with this man. He is that kind of father, even if I am way too high-strung a mother. Here are some pictures I found in a box recently. They show who he is. They reveal the man we get to love and get exasperated with and be silly with and laugh with every blessed-by-fortune day.

New York City, 1992

Christmas in St. Lucia, 1992

Thanksgiving in New York, 1997

And one more picture. This was one of a series taken by our daughter for our anniversary a couple of months ago. We're actually goofing around in most of the pictures, but this one captures something, a moment.

August 2010

We're going to our daughter's soccer playoff game this afternoon. Celebrations later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Deadly Roulette

http://mamapundit.com/watch-henrys-story

Please go to the above link and watch Henry's Story. Henry is a young man who died of a narcotic pill overdose on May 31 of this year. Apart from the human tragedy of it, I think his story has so captured me because he is three days younger than my own son. I was going through all the same stages of parenting my son at the same time Katie Granju was parenting hers. Like my own son, this boy was deeply loved and well provided for in terms of schooling and people who cherished him. It was not enough to save him from an accidental overdose epidemic that is stealing so many of our young.

Please share with your children that we are in the midst of a largely unreported prescription pill epidemic that is killing our children at unprecedented rates. Back in the 1970s, the prevailing wisdom was that cocaine was not addictive. A decade later, in the wake of devastated lives and too many deaths, we knew it was. We're in that place again, this time with narcotic prescription pain pills, and many young people just don't know the dangers. It is not okay to just swallow a pill that a friend offers at a party. Addiction can happen to anyone. It's not a playful, passing thing. It's so damn serious. And all too often, it is deadly.

From mamapundit.com:

A 2005 report by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) documented the problem.

"This report revealed that our nation is in the throes of a growing epidemic of controlled prescription drug abuse involving opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin, depressants like Valium and Xanax, and stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall,” Joseph A. Califano, Jr. CASA Chairman and President, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007.

Just last year advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance stated, “There is an overdose epidemic across the country.”

The numbers are mind boggling and rapidly escalating. According to the Drug Policy Alliance:

“In 2006, more than 26,000 lives were lost in the U.S. to the preventable tragedy of accidental drug overdose. This is the highest number of accidental drug overdoses ever recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This crisis now claims more lives each year than firearms, homicides or HIV/AIDS. Accidental drug overdose is currently the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States for people between the ages of 35-54 and the second leading cause of injury-related death for young people."

Magical Thinking

My daughter plays soccer. She is a starter on her school's Girls Varsity team, and she's also the backup goalie. Her coach wanted her to play first goalie. She's actually really good at it but she hates hates hates being in goal, so he struck a deal and made her backup goalie and ran plays that included her on the field.

At the beginning of the season, after her team lost their first three games, my girl noted,"I have never been on a winning team." It was true. Her progressive middle school was all about getting out under the sky and breathing fresh air and getting exercise and having fun. Their competitive edge was pretty dull. When she went on to high school, she hit the team right as they were rebuilding, and that first season was a miserable rout. The following year the team did better, but didn't make the playoffs. But this year, well, that's a whole different story.

You see, after my girl noted in her rather matter-of-fact tone that she had never been on a winning team, she went on to observe that she would like to know what it felt like to win. And would you believe it, they won the next game. And the next several, so that now they've put together a winning season and made it into the championship playoffs! My girl has played goalie in about half the games, and her team won all but one of those games. They are now seeded fourth in their league, but they are also the only team not to have lost to the first seeded team this season. And one of the teams they trounced during the season beat the first seeded team yesterday.

My girl's team also won yesterday after two hard fought overtimes that resolved nothing, and sent the game into penalty kicks. My daughter's team scored on all their kicks, the other team scored on only one, and so they—we—won!

Last night over dinner, my girl explained the simple math needed for her team to win the whole thing. What a magical little thinker she is! I think she just went right on ahead and rewrote her story. The philosophers say we are, all of us, capable of doing that. They say our lives are mere clay and we shape it daily with our thoughts and our intentions. I like to think my daughter is doing just that. Well, why not?

Only Yesterday

When your children are little, my mother said,
they tie up your feet. When they get older,
they tie up your heart. My children are little
in this photo. I think it was only yesterday.

Worry Brain

Very disturbing dreams last night. Most of them involved my son, who had called home last night in full-tilt stress mode. He is worrying about his grades. He failed one test and did badly on another one. His scholarship is tied to his maintaining a particular GPA and he thinks he will fall below it. And you know what? He might. He is taking seven courses (with two labs), which I have told him is crazy, but he insists he has to take that course load for his major. He is doing fine to extremely well in four classes, middling in one, poorly in one, and failing in one.

I told him to drop the one he was failing and take it next semester. He said that would just put him in the same position next semester, that he had no choice but to stick it out. He complained that he was working his tail off in those two classes, and how frustrating it was to see no result for that. I said he had to work smarter, not harder, which meant he had to figure out what his teachers were looking for. That infuriated and depressed him. I could tell he felt defeated and helpless. 

I said some words to try and convince him that he would be fine, that he can do this, and even if it all goes to shit, he can still regroup and come at it again, that one can always regroup and apply what's been learned from a crash and burn. I don't think he was much comforted. 

The course he is failing is Biology, and 150 of the 200 kids in the class are failing along with him. Something's not right about that. But this is college, not grade school. I can't call up his professor and point out that if three-quarters of the class is failing, that says something about the teacher, not the class. The students have to do that. They have to get together and make a case. Or else they need to figure out some other solution. If it were me, I would drop that course and take it again in summer school. But my son has a job in the summer. And he has a ticket to travel to England to see his (not quite) girlfriend, who will be traveling back to New York with him, spending a week in our home, and then on to summer camp, where they will both be counselors again. Summer school would really put a dent in those plans.

But this is on him. He has to figure this out, and I know he can. What worries me is not the possibility of him failing. There are rich lessons to be gleaned from any failure. What worries me is how stressed to breaking he seemed on the phone last night, how not resilient, how he's spun this blip in his academic career into careening disaster. Where on earth did he learn such catastrophic thinking?

Rhetorical question.

You've got this, son. You really, truly do. Believe it. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Off Set

 

They called this art project "Mood Monsters." Clearly a good time was had in the making. It is fascinating to see sides of your children that they never really expressed while growing up under your roof. Last year, in his freshman year, my son acted in several student films made by his friends. In one of them, he was dressed in a suit and bowler hat, and performed a musical dance number with the other actors. He also posed with one of his friends for another friend's photography project that told the story of a disintegrating relationship through Black and White stills. Singing, dancing, acting, and now here he is using himself as a canvas. I recall my son's middle school art teacher once took me aside at a parent-teacher event, and she said, "I just want you to know your son is extremely artistic. He has a gift. He isn't really interested in doing anything with it right now, but you should know it is there inside him." At the time, my mind was mildly boggled. Not so much now.

Son as Art





Monday, October 25, 2010

Ikebana

Ikebana by Christine Lebrasseur



"Art is the only way 
to run away without 
leaving home."

—Twyla Tharp


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Well, this is new

Friends, 2001
My daughter has gone driving with one of her best friends in the world, a 17-year-old boy who got his license a month ago. My husband said she could go. I went along with it, though my brain was screaming noooo. I have known this boy from the time he was a wild-haired toddler maneuvering a trike at a 2-year-old's birthday party. He and my daughter have been in class together since they were four, the class spending 3 weeks each school year at their school's farm, and then they went on to the same high school. They have seen each other through their mutual obnoxious, annoying stages to become really solid friends, the kind who can confide in and advise each other on heart things.

But this year, this young man transferred to another high school so he could play football. I miss having him at my daughter's school. I know his gentle, playful heart, plus he would always bring my girl right to her front door after late-running extracurricular events at school, or parties they both attended, or aimless rambles around the city with their friends. It was always a comfort to know he would bring her all the way home, that she wouldn't be traveling alone.

Now he and my daughter go to different schools, and find that they miss each other more than they realized they would. They took for granted all the years that they would just see each other at school every day. So they make an extra effort to get together these days.

And now this young man of whom I am so fond is driving! He has rather amazing parents who made him sign a contract covering who can ride in the car with him, speed limits to observe, car etiquette and so on. But still. I still see the little kid zooming around on the trike. It's like that commercial where the dad is handing his daughter the car keys and giving her the rules of the road, and what he sees in the driver's seat in front of him is his little girl in a frilly dress, not his self-assured teenager. I laugh every time I see that ad. I know how that dad feels!

Same kids, this year

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Traveling Woman


My 92-year-old aunt has been having hallucinations for the past several days. She sees a man in her room, sitting in her chair, wearing a black suit, and he won't leave when she tells him to. When we tell her that we don't see the man she is pointing to, she gets angry with us, because after all, there he is sitting right there, what is wrong with you all?

Last night, she refused to go to bed. She refused to get out of her chair because that damn man was just going to make himself comfortable there, and how dare he come into her room and act like he belonged there. And so she sat well into the midnight hour, ignoring the entreaties of the home attendant, who offered to hit the man over the head with the quad cane if he showed up, if my aunt would just get into bed. My mother was beside herself, her voice quavering as she said, "I don't know what else to do." But then she had the idea of offering my husband to go over and chase the man out of the apartment. My aunt brightened, liking the idea.

So at almost midnight my husband pulled on his shoes and a jacket and went over to my aunt's apartment. He didn't engage the man, though. He just sat with my aunt, exchanging rambling talk for close to an hour, not mentioning anything about the man. At last my aunt was tired enough so that my husband was able to coax her into bed.

But at around 5 a.m. this morning, the home attendant found my aunt on the floor next to the bed. She had tried to get up on her own and had fallen. The home attendant called 911. My aunt has now been in the ER all day. Her son is there with her and so is the home attendant. We still don't know if my aunt will be admitted. My mother has been on the phone with me at work for most of the afternoon. She is worried sick about her big sister and feeling rather fragile, so I am heading over there now.

Curiously, when her daughter was still in the house, my aunt's hold on the corporeal world seemed stronger. Since her daughter left, she's been drifting, here but not here as her pacemaker keeps ticking away. Her daughter is now in an outpatient program to get sober and will soon be settled in permanent housing. I think my aunt has finally released her to her own life.

Last night she told my mother, "I'm ready to travel now." At least that's what my mother thinks she said.

A Good Boy from a Nice Family

When my son was old enough to leave home and travel the city alone, I would instruct him on how to conduct himself out there in the street. At first he listened to my list of cautions, no doubt because listening and agreeing were his tickets out the door. But later, when he was an older teen, 15 or so, he had heard the litany often enough to know it by heart, and he would roll his eyes and say, "I know, I know, Mom, you've told me this before." Then came the day that he just looked at me with exasperation and said, "Mom, why do you think that I'm going to get shot the minute my foot hits the sidewalk!"

Though I had never actually voiced it, he had totally sussed out my underlying fear, which was based on nothing more than the fact that he was a Black boy walking through this world.

From the time he was born, I have held the fear that a White police officer will some day look at my child and see nothing but a criminal. They won't see my son. They won't see their own son in him, they won't see their nephew, cousin, baby brother, even themselves when they were younger. They won't be able to recognize normal teenage indiscretions if they are coming from my son, especially if he is with his Black friends. Instead they will look at him and see the stereotype in their heads, one born of urban decay and the fractures of poverty, lack of opportunity and toxic environments, and yes, prejudice too. The Black boy in handcuffs on so many TV crime shows is all they'll see when they look at my son.

No doubt my perspective as the mother of a young Black man, a good boy with no criminal history, is why I am so shaken by what happened to Danroy Henry, the 20-year-old Pace University junior who was fatally shot by police in the early morning hours last Sunday.

Danroy Henry
Danroy Henry played football for Pace. His team had lost their homecoming game that evening. His childhood friend had played on the opposing team, and their parents had driven down from their homes in Easton, Massachusetts for the game. The two families had shared a meal before the game, and after it, Danroy and his friend went with his teammates to a local bar in the mostly White, mostly wealthy town of Pleasantville, NY. Somewhere around midnight, the bar's owners called the cops because the crowd was getting unruly. An altercation had started inside the bar and had spilled out into the parking lot.

Danroy was not inside. He at no point took part in any fight or disturbance. He was the designated driver for his group, and had gone to get the car and had swung back around to the bar to pick up his friends as the cops arrived. Two friends, including the one he grew up with, were already in the car, which was standing in the fire lane. The young men were waiting for another friend. When a cop knocked on the window, Danroy thought the cop was telling him to move his car, so he drove off.

This is where the details get murky, diverging wildly depending on who's telling the story. The cops say Danroy drove directly at an officer who ended up on the hood of his car, and that the side mirror of his car struck another officer. So they started shooting.

Witnesses—and there were about 150 of them outside the bar—say one cop stepped in front of Danroy's car as he pulled away, and shot directly through the windshield. The cop ended up on the hood of the car, still shooting. Witnesses say the cops started shooting before any officer had been hit by the car. Danroy took a bullet, or several, lost control of the car and it slammed into a police cruiser and came to a stop. His childhood friend was shot in the arm. The young man in the back seat was uninjured.

His childhood friend described how the cops pulled Danroy from the car and handcuffed him. Danroy kept whispering, "They shot me, they shot me." As he lay face down in the parking lot bleeding, several of his teammates tried to get to him to administer first aid. They could see he was badly hurt and they knew he was not a young man who needed to be cuffed. But the cops held them back, pointing their weapons at the football players, punching one, tasering two others, and arresting and charging three with disorderly conduct. Eventually, the cops realized Danroy was dying, and attempted to give him CPR. This was 15 minutes or more after they pulled him out the car and threw him to the ground so they could handcuff him. It was too little, too late. Danroy died anyway.

The Pleasantville police chief met with Danroy's parents that Sunday and said later that they were "just a beautiful family." He said his officers were heartsick over what had happened. Never mind that their first reports had painted Danroy as a possibly drug-dealing thug trying to escape arrest by ramming his car into police officers. Never mind that not a week later, an anonymous law enforcement source leaked autopsy results that said Danroy had been drinking, an attempt, his parents said, to turn public opinion against him. Now, the governor of Massachusetts, Scott Brown, is calling for a thorough investigation. He is troubled by how divergent the two versions of what happened are turning out to be.

I can't help wondering what details have been omitted from the news reports. When the cops arrived, why did they approach Danroy's car if not to tell him to move from the fire lane? Why did they then open fire when he started the car? I want to know, too, whether there were any other Black boys in the parking lot, or were Danroy and his friends the only dark-skinned boys in a sea of college kids celebrating a homecoming win?

The Pleasantville police chief noted that the town's police officers hadn't fired a weapon in 22 years and had never before killed anyone. So why were they so quick to pump this young man full of lead? Did they see a Black boy and in the split second available to them make the assumption that he was a criminal? 

Yes, I believe they did.

In the days since the shooting of this young Black man who was clearly going places, I find myself combing through every news story for stray details, piecing them together, trying to answer the questions that won't let me go. There is a hard ache at the center of me, tears welling in my throat, the hurt so acute I have to remind myself that I never once met this boy. And yet I know him. And I know intimately the worries that have plagued his mother since he took his first breath, and the prayers she made again and again that she would never be asked to endure his last.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reaching for Zen


I am doing my very best to remember the Buddhist exercise that encourages us to treat each soul as you would if you knew it was their very last day on earth. But it's hard when the other soul isn't treating you the same way. 

My mother in law died last year. She was the glue, the conscience, the patience and the forgiveness. For her and for the good man I married, I am swallowing the words I want to say about a deep and painful miscommunication among family members. My husband's family operates very differently from my family of origin. My family by marriage wounds with silences and by withdrawing their speech and their person. I'm more used to the way my original family handles conflict and disagreement. We climb into the ring and talk and rage and cry and talk some more until the water is once again running clear.

My mother-in-law loved flowers. And she loved church. For the two Sundays bracketing her birthday, my husband made large altar arrangements in her honor. He rose at daybreak and went down to the flower district to choose his blooms and greens. When he came back home he spread them over our dining table and then quietly, meditatively began arranging them into stunning, artful designs that his mother had taught him when he was still a teen. His patient labor was a beautiful, tender thing. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Gathering

Saturday night we all went to dinner at Olive Garden, which is my mother's favorite place to gather us all. There were nine of us, and the place was packed, so we waited a full hour to be seated, since there's no such thing as reservations at Olive Garden. I was angsty and wanted us to go someplace else, but my mom said things like, "This may be my last time dining with you all here," so we stayed and my son tried to keep me distracted and calm.


We eventually sat in two booths back to back, which actually worked out quite nicely. I was happy to be wedged in next to my husband, with no need to stand on ceremony beyond explaining to the waiter that the gracious and elegant little lady at the table with the young ones was the woman of the hour, and please give her everything she wants and make her happy and comfortable. He kindly and scrupulously did just that. We waited an hour, but the service once we were seated was courteously perfect.


My niece's boyfriend spent the weekend with us. He was meeting my mother for the first time. She told him that he got points for having the same name as her father and her grandfather, and by the end of the weekend he'd racked up many more points by just being himself. He is easy, funny and family-oriented. He fitted right in and got along with everyone. Sweet guy.


My daughter was completely wiped out, having left home at 7 a.m. to sit the Pre-SATs at her school, then spending the rest of the day roaming with her five best friends from grade school at their old school's Farm Festival, then doing the family dinner thing. She tried. She mostly succeeded. But here, you can see she's about the fall into her portobello mushroom ravioli.

Back home, our son regaled us with stories of college life. He is particularly enjoying his Biomechanics of Human Movement class. He says he is in exactly the right major, although he had to break it to his Grandma that no, he doesn't plan to go to medical school, he is not going to be a doctor. "I'm going to be an Athletic Trainer, which is a first responder in an athletic setting," he explained to her. "It's like being a paramedic for a sports team." Sorry, Mom, you won't be able to say "My grandson, the doctor." But he'll be employed.


The painting on the wall behind my son if of my husband, painted before were got married. His sister's art teacher saw him when he came to pick her up from class one day and asked if she could paint him. She gave him the painting when she was done, and he in turn gave it to his mother, who gave it to me when her son decided to marry me. I love this painting, and I love that his mother gave it to me. She would have been 76 years old last Thursday, October 14. For my mom, our Olive Garden dinner was to celebrate all our October-born loved ones—my husband and my son still with us, and my dad and my husband's mom, now gone away.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Other People's Blogs

When I visit other people's blogs on my daily stroll through the blogosphere I am blown away—by people's art, by their lives, by who they know themselves to be and their unflinching honesty in setting that down.

Sometimes I am healed by their words, as I was this week by Maggie May's over at Flux Capacitor, who wrote about the turbulence she was experiencing in her inner life, urgently crying out for relief, and I read her words with awe and rising love at how authentically herself she managed to be, how brave, how vulnerable, how true. I lingered there, feeling a little selfish, too, because while I ached for Maggie in that moment and tried to beam her love and peace, I also rejoiced, because here, here, was my own inner world, so wildly, painstakingly described, and it was a relief, such a relief to know that others ride the same roller coaster I do, not that I wanted Maggie May to feel any pain, no, but she still healed me a little, just by writing her truth, and allowing me to say I see you, I know what you feel and it sucks, but it passes, and life for all its thousand sorrows is also replete with a thousand joys.

And then there is The Dishwasher's Tears. What darkness and art and light I found there in his often disturbing, often glorious meditation on creativity and human contradiction and abiding love. I venture gingerly into those waters, fascinated, afraid, compelled. He is a true artist. He is the kind of artist I fantasized about being when I was much, much younger, before I understood that to pursue art in that way would consumed me in its fire, I wasn't built for it, I didn't have the skin. Not back then, anyway. Maybe tomorrow. But the Dishwasher, he dances in the fire and emerges, burned but somehow redeemed.

"How We Burn"
By the Tearful Dishwasher

And deb over at Talk at the Table, a wise mother soul, a poet with a tough-tender heart, watching over her five children, intimately and from afar, knowing the sinew of who they are, how they have grown, the push and the pull, the love, the love. I imagine her bathed in their light, aching sometimes at the things she understands, but pressing on, full of forgiveness and grace, fed by an expansive faith that encircles rather than excludes. I feel her goodness when I read there. Always, I come away grateful.

I had no idea when I first began writing here, that the people I would meet here, so many of you, would become friends of my mind, that I would feel such love for you, that you would find your way into my prayers, that you would know my secret heart.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

The college kids are home for Fall Break, and my living room is once again filled with sleeping, Facebooking, TV-watching young people wrapped in blankets, unfurling themselves only to get snacks from the kitchen as they chit-chat and catch up on all the shows they have no time to watch at school. My son and one of his best friends, a young lady who's been home with him before and toward whom we are starting to feel familial, arrived last night, my niece this morning. My niece's boyfriend arrives tomorrow from some networking event in the city (he's a senior). They'll all be here till Sunday.

Last night, my mom came over and she was lying on our bed and everyone was in our bedroom with her, listening to my son tell us stories about his clinical hours as a student AT (Athletic Trainer) for his college's football team, and the way the players have to be taped and strapped before every practice due to chronic injuries, and how they monitor for serious injuries, especially concussions, which seems the be the thing that has made the deepest impression on my son. He talked about the dangers of sports concussions among student athletes, whose brains aren't fully developed until age 23, making them more prone to catastrophic injury.

He told us about second-impact trauma (I think that's what he called it) and how a kid could just die out there on the field from routine contact if the coaches and trainers didn't know what they were doing and put him back into the game after a head collision. Head injuries are apparently always more critical the second time around, even if the second injury is years after the first. He got a lot more technical than that, but what really struck me was when he looked at his dad, who enjoys watching boxing and ultimate fighting, and he said, "Sorry, Pops, but I cannot stand to watch boxing now, because I can picture what's happening inside their heads."

This is so ironic coming from my son, who has never protected his own head very well. He's always just hurled his body through space, fearless about impact. As a toddler, he would jump like a superhero from the back of the couch or dining table. In his high school soccer games he would leap to head the ball and connect with the cleats of a player trying to kick the ball. My son's 10th grade school picture captured for posterity that particular injury just below his eye. I shudder when I look at the picture, grateful that the cleat didn't hit him just an inch higher.

Hearing him last night, I couldn't stop myself from asking, "So do you take better care of your own head these days?" He laughed and said indeed he did, then told us that he had had a least two concussions that he could remember. One was in his 7th grade science lab when he bent to pick up a pen a friend had dropped. He must have grown overnight or something because he didn't correctly judge the edge of the marble table and it clipped his forehead, leaving a gash that bled frighteningly. His science teacher and classmates were scared. My husband and I got the dreaded call, "Your son hit his head. Please come at once." We rushed to the school and drove him to the doctor. He had a headache that evening, but was otherwise fine.

The second time was when he was on a high school trip to Paris during spring break of his senior year. He never told us about that one. Apparently he and one of his friends were wrestling in the hotel room and he turned to get a better hold and slammed his head into the concrete floor. He blacked out and regained consciousness to see the three other guys with whom he was sharing a room crowded over him, worriedly asking if he was okay. He said his head hurt like hell and he threw up that night. But he never bothered to tell the teachers or tour leaders. "The symptoms were just classic," he says now. He remembers that he went right to sleep, the worst thing to do. Someone should have tried to rouse him several times through the night, to make sure he could wake up. They didn't know that. Fortunately, he woke up the next morning with not much more than a headache, and traveled with his group to Normandy (see them acting up on the beach here). The rest of the trip was without incident.

Looking back, my son was fairly moody and irritable toward the end of senior year, which I attributed to teenage crankiness and his impending departure for college. But after doing some reading on concussions this morning, I now wonder if maybe his brain was still healing from being slammed against his skull in Paris. Mood swings, headaches, forgetfulness and irritability are all symptoms of a person still healing from concussion. Oh well. It's all moot now. What's important is he seems fine today and even mellow this time around. I thank his angels.

It is so good to have him home. And my niece, who is currently curled up in an armchair sleeping. And all their friends.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

The daily, as of late


This photo, posted and tagged by one of my son's friends, appeared today on his Facebook page. He is with some of his college buddies at an off-campus apartment. I recognize a couple of kids around the table. One of them will be coming to our home with our son for Fall Break next week. But what really touched me and made me want to grab the photo was the caption, "Family Dinner," and the title of the album it was in, "The daily, as of late."

We humans are nourished by the sense of being valued within a community. I wish for all our children a community that values them, always.

Lighting the Shadows

Venus, planet of love and beauty, goes retrograde in secretive Scorpio today. This roughly two-month-long astrological passage is supposed to prompt us to reevaluate all our relationships, root out secrets, confront long-standing dysfunction, challenge the status quo, and flush unconscious motivations out of hiding.

That said, I don't follow astrology much anymore. There's too much room for my imagination to seize on worst case scenarios. I've learned that the key to getting through all difficult transits is this: Function in a way that is impeccable, disciplined, courageous, and loving and everything will be fine. Of course, I often I fail at that. The only thing to do then is pick myself up and try again.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Henry

Photo of Henry from mamapundit.com

I am thinking a lot about Henry Granju. He would have turned 19 today, three days after my own son. My heart just aches for his mother Katie, who writes the blog mamapundit, and for his family. I will not pretend to know what this day must be like for them. Instead, I'd like to repost a fragment of an essay by another blogger, Thunder Pie, whose vision left me smiling through tears.

-----------------------------

A Tennessee kid would have turned nineteen today. I never met him but I feel like I did. I've stared at him in pictures, his handsome face framed by a shock of thick dark hair, his thin frame usually wrapped up around his acoustic. He was the son of someone me and my wife met recently, someone who we like a lot. I cannot begin to understand her loss. No one can unless you've been there. Here's hoping you haven't.

Still, when I hear the tales of young men dying I think of that river somewhere way out there beyond the known sky. After the great big storm cloud of life melts away, after the whizzing bullets and the hydroplaning muscle cars and the dirty needles and the fistfights and the pills and the shitty cancers and leukemias and the bedroom nooses, all of it, after all of that slips away on the edge of a crisp afternoon breeze, what is left is this:

A young guy walking downstream, uncertainty in his gleaming eyes, headed right into the gaze of a kid who came before him. A good kid who's been waiting to show a newbie around.

For Henry. We'll play guitars someday.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Masquerade


My daughter says she almost bought one of these masks when she was in Venice this summer. I'm drawn to the scrollwork on the windows, and the drape of orange cloth and the dresser in the right corner that reminds me of my father's. Mostly I love the other world-ness of this. 

Escape. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Son!

My son turns 19 today. Nineteen years ago, at 7:01 PM, he entered this world and made me a mother and his dad a father, and the sun has shone brighter and my purpose on this earth has been sure ever since. Happy birthday, son. I know you have classes and labs all day, but I hope you can pause to feel how loved you are, how very loved you are.

Summer 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What and When

Today, two uniformed officers escorted my cousin Pearl to her mother's apartment so she could pack up her things. The home attendant called to let me know, and I went over there mostly to be there for my aunt, but also because I wanted to see my cousin, wanted to look in her eyes and gauge how much fight she still had in her. I was hoping to see some fight left, because over these next weeks she will have to recreate her life almost from scratch. Pearl was in her room, throwing clothes into a suitcase. She looked scared. For perhaps the first time in her life, her actions had consequences she couldn't manage to bend to her will.

I said, "How are you?" and she said, "I don't know what the hell is happening." And she started to sob. I put my arms around her and hugged her. I didn't want her to feel completely abandoned. She held on and cried for a minute on my shoulder, and then she pulled away, and said, "Well, anyway, you have my cell number." She turned back to balling up clothes and throwing them into the suitcase and that's when I saw she still had plenty of fight.

My aunt sat in her usual chair in her room, her brow furrowed as if she couldn't quite figure out why there were two police officers in her hallway. I kissed her forehead and she said something I couldn't make out. I gathered from the way she thrust a pile of envelopes at me that she wanted me to attend to whatever business was contained in them. I latched onto the AARP renewal notice. "I'll take care of it," I told her. "Don't worry." She remained fiercely focused on the mail, mumbling intently but unintelligibly about it. I assured her as best I could, thinking this must be her way of dealing with her daughter's departure.

The home attendant, a gentle yet tough Jamaican woman for whom I am so very grateful, suggested we tell my aunt that Pearl was going into rehab, to make things easier for her. I didn't know what to think about that. For some reason, my spirit resisted the suggestion. But my aunt wasn't asking anything about the uniformed officers right then so I took the coward's way out and didn't try to explain. 
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