Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

New Year's Eve. I never know what to do with this night. It is always vaguely unsatisfying, as if the rest of the world is in on some secret celebration, and I'm not invited to the party. Even when there's a party to go to, I find myself reluctant, because my expectations are too high; I know I will be disappointed.

This night, when I was a child growing up in Jamaica, was sublime. We all drove up to my Uncle Donald's house at the top of a precarious hill. In the hours leading up to midnight, we children would play hide-and-seek in the dark, scurrying behind rocks, outcroppings of my uncle's sprawling, split-level house, twisted trees. Then, as the hour approached, the grown ups would call us in, and we'd hold hands in a giant circle in the living room, spilling onto the grill-enclosed porch, and we'd count down the seconds, bursting into a lusty rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the new year rolled in. We'd hug and sing and kiss and laugh and hug some more. Endorphins (or maybe it was joy) flooded every cell of our bodies as we sank happily into the embrace of our large family with its overabundance of dominant, colorful characters.

I miss that time. I think nothing can match it, and so I don't try. Come this night, I carefully manage my expectations. It doesn't help that our family now goes different ways on this night. My husband and I are going upstairs to a neighbor's gathering, grateful to be invited, and that getting there and home on this zero-degree night won't be too complicated. Our children want to be with their friends. So I'll count down to midnight holding hands with my husband, thanking God for him, but still aching at the memory of those so-long-ago New Year's Eve parties, and missing my children, too.

Auld Lang Syne, written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in the 1700s, translates as "Times Gone By." That we had those times is the kindness.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Flower Dance

My aunt, 90, comes home from the hospital in two days. She has been there almost two months, mostly waiting for her 24-hour home care arrangements to be approved. My mother, 86, says,"Wouldn't it be nice if she had fresh flowers to come home to?" My aunt really could not care less about fresh flowers, and I know they will sit in her living room until they are withered to ash unless I or someone else comes by and throws them away. But it will make my mother happy to know there are flowers in her big sister's home on the day she comes home from the hospital, so it is up to me to fulfill my mother's not-so-idly-stated wish. I'm thinking tulips, artfully arranged. "Go to the corner," my husband says. "Just grab a bunch there." "Do they have tulips?" I ask, to which he just shrugs. Simplify.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Small Victories

Yesterday morning, while my 86-almost 87-year-old mother was bathing, I went into the bathroom to help. Really, I went in there because company was ringing our doorbell, and even though it was one in the afternoon on a Saturday, I was still in my nightgown. My husband, already dressed for the day, went to answer the door and I escaped into the bathroom with my mother, thinking I'd help her dress and then shower myself.

The morning before, Mom had hit her forehead on the far wall of the bathtub, the result of her iffy depth perception due to her being blind in one eye. Even though I was mostly escaping my social obligations, I thought that I could still make things easier for my mom. I reached to help her out of the bath. "No," she said. "I have to do this. You won't always be around so I have to keep doing for myself, or I'll lose the ability." So I sat, ready to spring to her assistance should she need it. She edged to the end of the bath bench and maneuvered herself out of the tub, steadying herself by holding on to the basin. She dried, powdered, deodorized, began to dress. She got to her bra. With her slow arthritic fingers, she turned it inside out and upside down so that she could close the hook-and-eye clasps from the front, then move it to the back and pull everything up, slipping her arms through the straps.

As I sat watching her, she reminded me of no one so much as my now 19-year-old neice when she was two years old, lips pressed together in dogged determination to button her own overalls. My mom struggled to connect the clasps, one, then another, then another. When she managed the whole thing after a few tries, she raised her arms and exulted, "Thank you, thank you, Father." I think she even shifted her hips back and forth gingerly in a tiny jig.

"That's a big deal?" I asked her.

"Oh, you have no idea," she said, eyeballing the waist of her slacks as if calculating how she would get her legs inside. "Sometimes I stand here for twenty minutes trying to make the hooks meet, then when I get one, another comes undone. It doesn't always go this well."

We laughed a little, but inside, I was imagining all the unsung heroic actions she quietly undertakes each day, determined to keep doing for herself. My heart just swelled with love and admiration for her. And some sadness, too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Confused Parent of Strange Children

"Confused Parent of Strange Children"--the words on the button my son gave me for Christmas, along with The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, which I had hinted broadly for, and even had my daughter buy and then tell her brother that he could give it to me since she'd already gotten me a present.

So much has happened since I was last here in June. My daughter started high school. So far, she's made a spectacular transition. She ended the first quarter on the honor roll, and played goalie for the varsity soccer team. She seems to have lots of friends, and to mostly be very happy. Sometimes, I think my girl is here on this earth to! Or to spread it around. Even when she gets cranky, she doesn't stay in that dark country very long. She delights me. My son is more like me. Impatient. High strung. Reactive. We often rub each other raw over insignificant things, and have to bite our tongues with each other a lot, so as not to do lasting damage. I irritate him. I know this. I am glad that my husband is in our lives. He steps between us and makes things light. My daughter is more like my husband.

There was the night right after Thanksgiving when my son and I ended up screaming at each other in the living room, my son yelling that I needed to butt out of his college search and let him handle it, me screaming that he wasn't handling it and all the deadlines were passing, and his early action schools were writing for his senior grades and science teacher recommendation, him screaming that he had it under control, that he'd talked to his counselor about it, me screaming that he should have just told me that, because then I wouldn't have called his counselor myself, us screaming sceaming screaming.

My husband, who had been in the bedroom peacefully turning film negatives into digital photo files with his new birthday gizmo, finally stalked into the living room and commanded, "Both of you, quiet!" At which point, our daughter skips in and says, "Look at this!" and shows us a photo of us in the park, my son carefully picking a leaf out of my hair. A beautiful caring mother and son shot. My son and I looked at each other and quit the screaming, no apologies, but all the animus gone.

As it turns out, my son got into his three early action colleges. Thank God he applied to some places early action, and got in, or I might have obsessively been pushing for him to apply to more schools, more schools, maybe even into April, or whenever the first acceptance rolled in. I think he should have applied to more "reach" schools, though, that he is a better candidate than he (or I) gave him credit for. He thinks at this moment that he wants to go to a school in the D.C. area, and what better time for him to be there than when Barack Obama is in The White House. He's not so interested in engineering anymore, doesn't want to be quite so intimate with math. He's thinking kinesiology, the science of human performance. I'm managing to keep silent on this. I'm managing not to say this is a pre-med path, or a bioengineering path, or a physical therapy path. He'll probably shift in many new directions before his future, never immutable, claims him.

I have to stop writing now. My family has sniffed out the fact that I am writing (trying to write) about them, and they keep bursting into the room, noisily trying to read over my shoulder, which is robbing me of all deep thoughts.

I wanted to write about Christmas day. My brother, his wife, their two kids, 8 and 5, are here from Jamaica, as is my mom, who turns 87 in a month. My 90-year-old aunt came out of the hospital to spend the day with us. My cousin stayed sober. Lots of stories there. Can't manage to mine them right now. Here comes my willowy neice, singing.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Move and the World Moves With You

My husband bought our daughter a new bike yesterday. We have been promising her a new bike for two years, ever since we gave away her old one to her cousin in Maryland. I actually disliked that bilious-yellow bike. It was heavy and hard to handle. But my niece loved it, so I was glad to see it go.

When he came home, my husband said he'd seen in the store the bike I would love, one the same make as my very first bike, a bright red Giant, the one I used to take out of storage each summer when we went riding in the park. Here I am, thinking about exercise, and the perfect bike presents itself. I know my husband is nostalgic for the days when we would go riding every summer weekend, and take breaks on the grass by the river, watching people, being in the mix of life.

I'm nostalgic for those days.

I have come to hate sunny days. They insist you get out of the house, and I would rather hide inside. Not when it's sunny out, though. Nothing more depressing that a dark house on a sunny day.

Can I even make a bike stay up anymore?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cliche No. 1: The First Day of the Rest of My Life

My husband and my mother are just back from church. I am still in my nightgown, trying to get my 14-year-old daughter to eat a healthy breakfast before soccer practice, trying to coax my 16-year-old son to clear the old tee-shirts from his dresser drawers, so he can stop piling the ones he does wear, neatly folded from the laundry, on his windowsill. He has final exams next week. He's in 11th grade, and this is the report card that will matter next year when he applies to colleges. What I really want is to create a room around him in which he will want to study. A clutter free environment so the facts he needs to master can float right into his brain, instead of being intercepted by all the mess. Okay, that's how my brain works. Still, I haven't seen him crack a book all week. Every night, he lodges himself on the couch and watches his DVR'ed television shows. And on Friday, review day at his school, he and several friends went to the beach. But I am finally at the stage of mothering him where I have nothing to do with his schoolwork. So if he keeps his A in honors physics, I will cheer. If he doesn't manage to raise his C+ in honors math to a B, I will shrug. Silently, I will pray that he gets into the college of his choice anyway.

My husband, watching me type away in my nightgown, senses my mood. "I guess, I'm the one chaperoning soccer this morning?" he says.

My mood. Ah yes. I am on the verge of changing my life, but what I feel is not the exhilaration of possibility, but the despair, the dark desperation of a lifetime of having failed to lose this weight that encases the real me. While my husband and my petite and elegant 86-year-old mother (who has bionic knees but no depth perception because she is blind in one eye) knelt in church and prayed and got happy, I was watching Sanjay Gupta's Fit Nation on CNN, searching for confirmation that I need not worry about all the weird bumps and ripples and unexplained aches all over my body. I turned 50 last year, a fact I still find shocking. Since then, my body has begun to manifest all sorts of distress signals. Watching Sanjay interview cancer patients and a man who lost 100 pounds by writing a blog, I chanted under my breath, I will see my children's children. I am healthy, I insist to myself, even if I haven't been to a doctor in several years now, and the back of my head, my neck and my shoulders throb constantly. I will see my children's children.

The guy who wrote the blog and lost 100 pounds was a professor. Black guy. Handsome before he lost the weight. Still handsome, but now too pretty, after he lost the weight. I think: I am a writer and an editor. Writing the weight away is the one thing I have never tried. So I am trying that here. As I said, I am desperate.

My daughter will start high school in the fall. She wants to continue playing soccer. My son knows what is in store for his sister. He is a varsity athlete, a soccer player and a hurdler, not an ounce of fat on his body. He's told his sister that all she needs to up her game is conditioning. Well, with three hour practices every day after school, she will soon be well conditioned. I am quietly thrilled. I want her to make lifelong friends with exercise. I don't want her to ever have to put a brave face on and bear the hurt of walking through this world as a fat person.

So how will writing a blog help me lose my 100-plus pounds? Maybe it will keep me conscious. Perhaps it will help me accept myself in this moment, love myself in this moment, so I can stop hiding from myself, because who wants to face a self that is so at odds with the never-attained ideal, a physical self one has always secretly loathed.

My husband of 22 years is still loving and attentive to me, even with those 100-plus extra pounds. He never acts embarassed to walk into a room with me. But all my life, I have fantasized about being thin and sexy for him. Who am I kidding? Even when I weighed 140 pounds, I wasn't thin. I was normal-sized, but I still had a globe behind and thick legs that made me feel fat even then. When my kids throw themselves down next to me on the couch, and snuggle against me, those are the only moments in my life when I don't mind the size I am. I know I am comfortable. But everywhere else in the world, at every other moment, I am braced against the onslaught of people's judgement. Will they see who I am, what I can do, who I can be, beyond the unseemliness of my weight? The armor I put on to navigate this fat-hating world weighs a ton. Every morning, as I pull it around myself, all I want to do is climb under the covers and cry.

My husband says all the right things. "I didn't marry a dress size," he told me when I asked him if he felt betrayed by all the weight I had gained. Another time he said, "So do you love me less because I am bald and grew a stomach?" Of course not. I see him. I look at him and I see the man I married, his eyes dancing, his wit and humor ready to spring, his steadiness, his goodness, his hotness. I won the husband lottery, really. And I gave my kids a wonderful day-in-day-out devoted father who is capable of sublime silliness and cooks gourmet dinners to boot. They hit the dad lottery, too.

I want to be everything for these people. That is why I will make my doctors' appointments this week. I will see my children's children.