Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I am feeling so out of sorts. I wrote a rant of a post yesterday about something at work that had me twisting on the spit and then it turned out to be nothing really, just my propensity to make up stories. Oh, I can make up stories. The thing I don't fully understand is why I always make up stories that incinerate me. It's depressive spiral I'm in today. I am writing it here in the hope of getting it out of myself, like casting out demons, like sending flying into the cool sweet air a silent poisonous ache.
On a more cheerful note, I have become an Instagram junkie. I finally have an up to date iPhone with a crystal camera, and I'm snapping everything everywhere. Spring is so incredibly beautiful to me this year, because I am really looking. I love seeing the ways in which the different filters reveal what's hidden in a snap, peering into the shadows, making colors their most vibrant, softening here, sharpening there, matching the mood you might be in, or helping you find what it was you saw in your mind's eye when you snapped the photo. That's one of the streets bordering where I live in the photo above, the moon just emerging, and me outside at twilight, the way I experience twilight best.
My friend asked me yesterday, "Do you not feel as if you are worth a birthday party?" I denied that to be the case. How pathetic that would be. I told her another truth, I just don't know how to pull it off. How odd, when you think of it, that my daughter wants to be in the hospitality business. My husband said this morning that he was going to call two friends of ours to see if they are free for dinner Friday. My heart leapt in a kind of panic. I wanted to say, no don't. Let's just make it you and me. I didn't. But I still might.
I miss my children. Birthdays are simple when there are kids in the house. You get a cake, light some candles, sing happy birthday, and call it a day. Could all of this just be chemical? Is that the same thing as hormonal? Aging isn't pretty. I'm on my way before work to trim my 94-year-old aunt's hair this morning, catching the window when the home attendant who can lift her moves her to her wheelchair. She's also getting a new hospital bed delivered, one with a mattress that rolls on mechanical puffs of air under her, relieving the pressure of her body against cloth so her skin won't break. She is skin and bone now, knees sharply bent, arms curled into her chest, hands in perpetual fists. Sometimes she knows you're there and uncurls one fist, lifting it toward you. Other time she refuses to let you find her eyes. This might be the real reason for the tears.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
This is me, on the eve of another birthday. Good Lord, they just keep coming. It's high time, don't you think, that I make peace with the face I wear, the body I'm in? Putting that photo of me taken yesterday, my face, chins and all, right there in the public square is a start, or that's what I'm calling it anyway.
I sat with my husband and my friend in a pizza and Chicago grill place yesterday afternoon, planning my birthday party, making a long list of people I love on a paper napkin. I was mixing all my social groups with abandon, and mixing food themes with abandon, too, requesting pina coladas and my husband's seafood gumbo to go with the birthday cake.
The list made and lunch paid for, the three of us meandered through a craft fair, where my husband bought me one of those typewriter key bracelets I have always wanted, it seemed the perfect talisman for a writer, which is how I describe myself in my secret heart, but in all the years of stopping by that stall at city craft fairs, I had never actually purchased one because the price always seemed too high for whimsy. But yesterday, above my protestations about the cost, my husband reached into his wallet and bought me the one I held in my hands longest, and he fastened it on my wrist with great fanfare and kissed me happy birthday. And even though we bickered back and forth quite a bit yesterday, these are the sorts of things he does, even in the midst of the two of us jockeying for petty control, and it's no wonder I will always love him.
I was drawn to that particular bracelet because the words "Shift Freedom" pierced me when I saw them. To me they meant, shift your mindset to freedom, that's what came into my mind as soon as I saw that key, larger than the rest, centered for emphasis, and at the ends of the string the numbers of my two birthdays: 3, the one my mother knows is the true date, and 4, the date my birth certificate immortalized, the identity that institutions and bureaucracies believe to be truth. Later, we sat for a long while on benches outside the American Museum of Natural History, and watched people come and go, the children playing around the fountain, the tourists of all descriptions, the trees at their most glorious, the breeze a caressing kind, the sky intensely blue overhead.
This morning, though, I awoke and realized I don't want a big birthday bash after all. Too much stress. I am not an easy entertainer. My husband says it's because in my family, entertainments were lavish affairs, with crystal and china and silverware and lace, and cooking for days, and crowds and crowds of people from all our circles, and more food than could ever be consumed. My mother was a natural hostess, she did it magnificently, her teas, her dinner parties, her outdoor cocktail soirees, and I was always pressed into service until at some point in the proceedings I would quietly escape to my room, taking sister-cousins with me, and there the real party would happen, impromptu.
I remember the sense of wonder I felt at Christmas in my husband's parents' home, when the whole extended family was invited to dinner and yet there was no frantic flurry of activity beforehand. His mom would get up in the morning and go to church, and after she would start cooking, all the while chatting with everyone, and different family members would chop this or stir that, no stress in them at all, and suddenly I would look up and the table would be covered with dishes she had prepared while seeming to be doing nothing at all, and the clan would arrive and the whole affair would just flow.
I don't know how to do that. When faced with planning a party, I freeze. Though I did manage birthday parties for my children, it is so stressful for me, triply so if I am planning an occasion for myself. Come to think of it, other than my wedding, I have never really done such a thing. I imagine no one will come, there won't be enough food, the right music, people won't get along, they won't enjoy themselves, on and on. And so I woke up this morning and announced to my husband that I had changed my mind, I don't want a big gathering. Let's keep it simple, I said. Maybe just dinner somewhere with a couple of friends, or maybe just you and me. I don't think this is quite what Shift Freedom is supposed to mean, but I suppose I have to start somewhere. I'll start here—with consciousness about why I am making this choice, knowing that it might not seem to be the brave choice, but it frees me, too.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Thursday, April 25, 2013
The top photo is of my daughter and two of her closest friends since ever since. The one on the right is transferring to the same college as my daughter in the fall, and the mood about that is, well, rather like the mood in this photo. I love running across these old photos. The second is a more recent snap of these beautiful young ladies. Not much has changed. They're even standing in the same spot in our hallway!
Monday, April 22, 2013
Our girl came through overnight on her way back to school from Boston. I miss her now that she has swept back out, back to her life away from us, her most real life. It was good to see her, even for those few hours. It was especially good to curl up with blankets on the couch and catch up on things. She looks good, she seems well, as far as I can tell, but how far can I tell, I wonder? She's so capable, the way she set her alarm and was up and showered and packed and hugged us tight and was out the door this morning, knapsack on her back, pulling her rolling weekend bag behind her.
She just texted me that she ran into her friend at Port Authority, the one she used to take the school bus with from pre-kindergarten on. Yes, I did put her on the school bus in pre-K. She and this other kid were the only two four-year-olds whose parents dared to have them ride the bus. They were fine, and half the class joined them the following year. By then these two were bonded as bus buddies. Now this young man goes to college in the same town as my daughter, and he was taking the same bus back to school as she was. They're bus buddies again, haha.
Hard to believe she has just two more weeks of freshman year and then finals, and then we will all gather for her brother's graduation. And then—what? I don't know what comes post college. We're about to chart new territory here. Our son is eager to be done with school for a while. He has no desire at this moment to go to graduate school in anything. He wants to be an EMT/paramedic/firefighter with the FDNY. That's his plan. A couple of track and field coaching opportunities might also be coming his way.
Sometimes life is just one big ache. And worry. I think too much, that is the whole cause of it. I feel vaguely uneasy this morning and I can't figure out why. Maybe I simply miss everyone I love who is away from me. There is such comfort in the physicality of our loved ones, in being able to circle them with our arms and inhale the salty sweetness of them. And keep them safe.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
I was up last night until almost daylight, obsessively watching the news, waiting for the break I knew would be coming any moment. As soon as I heard there had been explosions in Watertown, MA, amid the sustained gunfight, I knew the killing of that cop at M.I.T. was not a random crime, that law enforcement was closing in on the suspects from Monday's bombing. The journalist in me was taking notes.
But what really kept me up and glued to the news channels and live blogs and Twitter updates is the fact that my daughter is in that city, and I was on Google drawing up maps to calculate how far away Watertown is from where she was staying. Not far.
I have an overactive imagination on the best days, so last night I was focusing my thoughts like a laser to draw a cone of safety around my girl, so that she would not wander out in the daylight, innocently for breakfast perhaps, and get caught in crossfire.
She will be fine. That is the energy I am sending out. I am concentrating on it. She will be fine and her friends who go to school in Boston will be fine and that city will be healed.
The suspect they are looking for is 19 years old, the same age as my daughter. Such a child! What on earth got so twisted for him and his 26-year-old brother, who died at the scene of last night's gunfight, an IED strapped to his body? They are Chechen born, their family came to the United States soon after 9/11, they lived in Cambridge a block or so from Harvard, their parents split up a few years ago and moved back to Russia, leaving both boys alone. The older brother may or may not have been part of a cell of non-Arabic-speaking Islamic Jihadists. The little brother is said to have hero-worshipped the older one. At least one teacher described the 19-year-old as "a lovely boy."
I do not understand, though, not even when I apply my contortionist imagination, what they hoped to accomplish with their bombs.
Update: They found the second suspected bomber, cornered him hiding in a back yard boat as evening fell on Friday. All day he had huddled under the boat's tarp, until at last police took him into custody, possibly saving his life. By then he was too weak to resist arrest and bleeding almost to death from gunshot wounds in his neck and leg. The lockdown was over, the city rejoiced. But in Watertown, MA, even as the residents cheered the long line of police cruisers pulling out of the neighborhood in a light show parade, when the TV cameras zoomed in close, all eyes looked pensive, bewildered, sad.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
We can once again see the path under our kitchen window where one of my daughter's friends, a boy with whom she went from preschool to high school, would ride his bike and stop right there and call out for her to look out the window and there he would be, waving energetically until I motioned for him to come on up and it would be a charming surprise every time. Given how long the scaffolds have been up, I realize now they were still in middle school, which gives the memory a rather sweet storybook quality. So much life is returning to our little garden. Neighbors are already sitting out on the benches so that we greet each other on returning home at the end of the day and stop to catch up on all the happenings we missed when the sky was blocked and everyone scurried in and out of the buildings through dark netted corridors, faces wearing that closed intent look New Yorkers get when there is no invitation to tarry, no inclination to connect. The newly revealed grounds look parched and dry, the asphalt cracked and bleached, but the benches have been steam cleaned and the trees are starting to put out leaves overhead, and everyone's shoulders seem more open, their faces welcoming, and here we are, here we still are.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In Boston yesterday, on a street corner near the site of the explosions that devastated the city two days ago, a musician took a clarinet from its case and played a pitch perfect rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." The pedestrians who surrounded him as he played had tears running down their faces.
Many have mentioned the fact that when the bombs went off on Monday at 2:50 p.m. at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, on tax day, on Patriots' Day, the vast majority of people ran not away from the blast, but towards it, to help their fellow citizens. Other runners kept going past the finish line, heading to nearby hospitals so that they could give blood to the injured. I thought about my son, who feels called to be among the first responders in any crisis, a desire born in the ashes of 9/11, a desire that has never waned.
Still, he was in my camp as my daughter and I debated whether she should go through with a planned trip to Boston this week. My son and I felt the city was still so fragile, too much was unresolved, she should reschedule her trip for another week. But she was determined to follow through on her plans, with her dad's blessing I might add. After getting nowhere in trying to dissuade his sister, my son said to me, "Well, I guess it's okay for her to go. After 9/11, you didn't keep me locked up in the house." I said, "But you knew New York City. She doesn't know Boston." To which my daughter replied that when 9/11 happened her brother was 9 years old, while she is 19 and can be trusted to figure things out.
She is on her way to that wounded city now. She once studied the clarinet, even though that haunting instrument has remained locked up in its case on a top shelf in her room for a few years now. Still, when I heard the story of the street corner clarinetist in the news this morning, I decided he was a messenger of peace, and that my daughter and all the good people of Boston and this nation will weather the troubled aftermath of tragedy with clear-eyed purpose and humanity, which is the best any of us can do.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
The thing I understand more and more is that my mother has felt the quiet ache of missing me for decades, ever since I left home at 18 and never came back. She feels it still, even now at 91, sitting in her chair in Jamaica, one of her grown children at hand, the other across the seas. This missing our children, this letting them go and trusting the world to treat them kindly without our vigilance or intervention, it is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but mothers and fathers have been doing it for eons.
This thought is not unrelated to Mary Moon's daughter getting married yesterday. I have been thinking all weekend about this luminous young woman standing up before the ones she loves best and pledging to love the one she found for the rest of her life, and her young man doing the same. The thought of it is so achingly beautiful I can hardly stand it. It takes me back to my own wedding day, and how impossibly young we were, how innocent and bright-faced and in love. And yet I love the one I married more now than I ever thought possible, this man who fathered my children, who reports on his day while cooking me dinner most evenings, who curls up against me and reads his medieval mysteries at night, who takes me to see the orchid show come spring. I am thinking about what it means to join your life with someone, to raise children with them, to let those children fly when the time comes and to relearn the quiet in the far reaches of the house, just the two of you together again, the way you started out.
It is the most unbearably beautiful and holy act of faith I can imagine, this joining, this pledge to love one another as bodies soften, as hips ache, as waists grow plump and laugh lines and frown lines no longer hide when the laugh or the frown is spent. I read something the other day about making marriage last after the fluttering excitement of new love inevitably diminishes; it cannot be sustained through the years of piled up laundry and skinned knees, homework drama and tuition payments, teenagers slamming doors and testing limits, the lovers' fading youth. What makes love last, this writing said, is the decision to love the one you found (barring abusive circumstance, of course). You choose to keep loving them. You have to actively choose it. I felt a rush of recognition, reading this passed-along writing that someone had shared on a social network, and that I clicked on. I realize I do choose it. I choose him. Now and forever. And I am blessed every day that he chooses me too.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Throughout the ceremony I noticed something: All the editors-in-chief, the power players, are beautiful thin people. This, I think, is not a coincidence. I'm not even dealing here with the fact that they are also almost exclusively White and male and for the most part come from privilege. That's another post. Right now, I am dealing only with the bodily ease with which they move through the world. They ran nimbly up the stage steps the get their awards, moving sleekly and gracefully to the podium, no self-consciousness in their movements, nothing awkward at all. Those of us who have spent our lives deflecting other people's gaze don't tend to ascend to such positions. We don't have the body comfort, the attractive ease of movement that makes some people unhesitating about stepping onto the grandest stage of their lives, putting themselves in the spotlight.
Studies have shown that people are drawn to those with whom they have body comfort, who are more like them than not (and no, I'm not going to find and cite any of the studies because this is an unmonetized blog post, so I get to play a little fast and loose). I could see how that applied to the power group up there on stage last night. They had such a physical sameness. The chummy air as they thanked one another and praised their long-standing friendships made it clear who was in the club and who stood outside.
No doubt membership in the club might require one to be more extroverted than I am. It definitely requires a level of body comfort I will never have. The power group certainly seemed supremely comfortable in their skin, the men joking easily like chosen princes as they addressed that room filled with their peers. Let's be real: I envied them. I felt like an underachiever, a shrinking rose, the one laboring in the wings whose name makes it onto the award plaques but whose feet never walk across the stage. Perhaps it is neither a good thing nor a bad thing but simply a fact that last evening I had no desire to be up on that stage.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
First they removed the scaffolding around my aunt's building last December. Well, as of today, the scaffolds around our building are coming down! What's it been? Four or five years? I am dreaming of sitting downstairs on the courtyard benches and reading a book and chatting with my neighbors as the new crop of kids play and forge friendships as my own kids did with neighbor children when they were younger. Our complex has been a construction site for so long there will have to be substantive grounds and garden repair, but how ecstatic am I that I will once again walk out my front door and feel the overarching sky. You don't miss that simple joy until it's buried under years of steel piping and green-painted wood and zinc awnings, not to mention the black netting strung along the sides of the long maze of outdoor corridors. The scaffolds were to protect pedestrians from falling masonry as workers repointed the bricks and resurfaced the roofing and replaced boilers and chimneys. The work got delayed by severe winters and board infighting and lawsuits and a mid-stream replacement of management, which promptly raised our maintenance by almost 60 percent to pay for the construction. It seemed an unending nightmare. The scaffolds were useful on a snowy or rainy day. One could walk to the supermarket and never have to set foot in the inclement weather, but mostly it has been claustrophobic. I thought this day of seeing the workers with their tools busily deconstructing the scaffolds would never come. O happy day.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The expression in my infant son's eyes in the first picture is the same in the second one, that mixture of questioning and vulnerability, the softness that settles into his face when he thinks no one is noticing. I always notice. I am noticing, too, how much my son and my husband look alike in these photos. People say it all the time, but I never saw it till now. My beautiful men.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
I read something the other day, something about the danger of blogging while smitten with one's children, of seeming to trumpet them as it were, and I thought that maybe it could sometimes seem to verge on that here, because when I think of my children I do tend to inflate and just about explode with happiness, and sometimes I don't contain it very well.
I have nothing to say in defense of myself except that it is important for me to stay connected to my happy, because this is not an automatic state for me. Most of my life, I have been swimming under a sea of lonely and odd, as if a pane of thick glass stood between me and other people, and I could see out but they couldn't see in, couldn't see me, and never mind that I'm garbling my metaphors.
The truth is nothing in life has made me as happy as this little family we have created, the charge of parenting these two souls who screwed up their courage and came to me, this obsessive overbearing want-to-know-everything mother I am, who never learned how to leave well enough alone, and especially not how to leave them well enough alone.
So this is where I am now. I am trying to embrace the fact that my children's lives are not about me, even if mine often feels as if it's all about them. I am trying to make peace with the fact that they have grown up and belong to the world at large now, and I will never again know everything, and sometimes I will know nothing, and that is just the way of it.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
I remember now how when she was 8 or 9 she would write out three course menus in painstaking cursive and get her dad to help her shop for ingredients and cook the meal. She would set the table fancily with cloths from my mom's passed on embroidered linen pieces, and serve us each course with a napkin over her arm. At the end of the meal she would present us with a bill, often with many zeros following whatever the number. We would laugh and tell her at least she had the right idea.
Friday, April 5, 2013
Thursday, April 4, 2013
My text to my son this morning: "Don't forget to apply to graduate."
His text back to me: "Haha yea whoops!"
Apparently it's not automatic that you arrive at the end of four years of college, all research done, papers turned in, exams taken, internships completed, and you get your cap and gown and diploma. You have to make an application to graduate. My son explained this to me months ago but I somehow just knew that the actual applying had slipped his mind.
The text I just got: "Did it."
We had dinner with a few dear friends at a restaurant last night, and one asked us whether our son graduating in a matter of weeks had taken us by surprise. Did we think the four years of college had gone by quickly?
"College?" my husband said. "I'm still wrapping my mind around the four years of high school."
He doesn't often admit to being as floored by the propulsion of years as I am, but it is indeed a millesecond blink, almost a magic trick. I mean, our daughter is already just about done with her freshman year of college. Didn't we drive her five hours north to her campus, our car brimming with dorm room paraphernalia and a girl determined to sleep through her nervousness, just yesterday?
There was a chandelier overhead at dinner last night. I tried but didn't really capture it's fairy light charm, coloring the gentle flux of our evening as we helped each other navigate the tides.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
My girl was a camp counselor the last two summers and these were some of her charges. She loved being a counselor to those kids, especially the grumpy difficult ones. I'm thinking about all the camp things my daughter learned how to do during her years of visits and camps at the farm affiliated with her elementary and middle school. She knows how to:
Milk a cow
Weave natural-dyed wool into textiles
Press apple cider
Tap maple syrup
Cook a meal for 20 people
Plant, grow and harvest organic herbs and vegetables
Play manhunt in the darkest night, hiding under a farmhouse with no fear of critters
Build rock and stick dams in a river
Swing four girls strong on a tree swing
Do barn chores (clean stalls, water animals, etc)
Help a calf be born
Build snow forts
Inner tube down mountains
Ride a tractor
Relish sleeping on hay on barn nights
Do light carpentry
Build a bonfire
Wade in a frog pond
Live and squabble and make up and dance and laugh with 16 kids for seven years
I call her that. Mommy. And guess what? My kids call me Mommy too. And they call their father Daddy. They don't think about it. It's the way is it in our family, the whole extended clan. Maybe it's cultural, as in how it is in Jamaica and in Antigua, where we originate. Only when their friends wrinkle their noses and tease them about the word "Mommy" or the word "Daddy" issuing from their lips do my children even notice it. I'm intrigued, though, that they simply laugh along and shrug with not a hint of embarrassment. I like that. So yeah. That's my Mommy and me in Jamaica, one short month ago. And yeah. I'm a big girl and my mommy is a slip of a girl. She's always been petite. Me? I take after her mom, and I always knew that she secretly loved my fat because it reminded her of Mama, which is what she called her mom. So maybe calling her Mommy is not cultural after all. Maybe it's generational. Maybe it's just us.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
A rather forlorn playground I happened upon yesterday short circuited me back to the play yard of the school in London that I went to when I was five. I wrote about it here. I don't know why the memory of that year is so keen today. I'm not feeling at all depressed, just reflective, musing on how certain watershed experiences can forge who we become. I think that year when I was five and living with my family in London was when I became aware of feeling not quite acceptable in the world. It is a sense of myself—a misunderstanding with myself, as one therapist termed it—that I have done battle with ever since. But isn't this really just the human condition? Don't we all come to a moment when the world sees us not as we see ourselves, and the disconnection begins? Perhaps the effort to put the fragments of ourselves back together to create a self that is whole and true is the epic struggle of all lives. I do believe we are, each of us, challenged at some juncture with making peace with ourselves. For some of us, this might mean living with the internal and external duality, recognizing the lie, accepting it as such, even if we never quite manage to mend the disconnection. I suppose this is what I'm thinking about this morning: How do we learn to live from the inside out, and not from the outside in?