Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Diva Lessons



Ah, we’ve come to the root of the problem.

Ben did not need a mental health day.

He needed diva lessons.

You see, as I walked into the school yesterday to drop Zachary off from his dentist appointment, the school nurse called me into her office.

Got another one of yours here…

Huh?

And there was Ben boy, splayed out on the nurse’s cot, white as a ghost.

Ben?

Hi, Mom, the weak reply came.

Meantime, Zachary has signed himself in, returned his coat to his locker and joined the school assembly- the dreaded WINTER CONCERT.

The kids who play instruments perform and the fifth grade chorus performs.

Why was my sweet boy on the cot?

Why was my sweet boy home the day before?

Stage fright.

Now, this is a kid who wants to try out for American Idol. He wants a recording contract, a stretch limo to take him to soccer practice and a team of fashion designers to dress him.

Or for him to dress them, I’m never sure which.

He is certain he is destined for a life onstage. And yet… he almost fainted yesterday. During rehearsal.

What’s up, Ben? I asked, after the nurse excused herself from the room.

I don’t know… I just feel sick… my head got hot and my head was cold at the same time and I felt dizzy…

Ben? That’s nerves. Why are you nervous?

I don’t know…

We went around and around a couple times. I finally said, listen, I have a meeting today. Not one I can do on the phone. If you can’t stay here, you will have to come with me.

Well… I could come back for after school…

He loves the after school program he goes to- it’s like one long play date with awesome activities, unlike the highly supervised play dates at home with his annoying mother. Me.

No, just like the TV? No fun if you are too sick.

Mom… I’m… just…

What is it? Is there someone bothering you in class? You have to tell me…

Ben has had several experiences at summer camps where something horrible has happened and I don’t hear about it until six months later over dinner one night. Oh, yeah, mom, by the way… I had no friends and everyone teased me for being gay…

Little things like that.

You have to tell me…

Mom. It’s just. MOM. Seriously. It’s just. Well. THE CONCERT.

Huh? To my knowledge Ben has never shied away from being the center of attention.

I got on the riser and even though it was just practice? I got so nervous and then the room started to spin…

AH HA, the very very slow sleuth mother puts it all together.

Oh, sweetie, we all get nervous in front of crowds…. I do. My stomach hurts and I think I’ll forget everything and wish I were anywhere else but… it always works out.

I know but… my head…

Oh, that’s just stage fright. It’s okay. A lot of people get it.

I realize, my child has just had his first, full-fledged anxiety attack.

Let’s go back in the auditorium. I’m sure the concert is almost over. You’ll be fine.

Okay… but…

Or else you’ll come home and miss after school.

Okay, I’ll do it, he said with sincere, and most diva like perseverance.

I thought I could break out in song. You know, like High School Musical, one of his favorite shows. Something sassy, something sweet, about climbing every mountain and shaking your booty.

The nurse grabbed me as I walked Ben back to join his class.

You know he’s going to faint, she said. They get up there and tense every muscle in their bodies like you cannot believe. No blood flow. They drop. They just do. Be prepared.

Okay, I said, quickly going over to his teachers. Can you get Ben off the top riser, please? Seems he’s gonna drop. We need a shorter distance or some padding.

As the kids were lining up to go onstage at that moment? No adjustments could be made. But I made them share my panic, at least.

He did fine.

And last night, with parents in the audience? He did fine again.

He flew home, completely pumped by his success. He talked to Walter and Allan on the phone for his second longest conversation EVER.

The first was of course with [his American idol watching buddy] and they sang songs to each other and that filled up a total hour and then he went to the mall and then and then and then…

I sat on his bed to tuck him in. There is a very famous singer who always has stage fright, I told him.

His eyes widened.

She was so afraid of going on stage, she finally stopped. I mean, this woman was so famous, thousands of people would want to see her. And even if she were horrible, they would clap and clap because she was a great star. Beyond a great star.

And she could not stand being onstage. She was terrified. She finally stopped doing concerts. For a long, long time. Everyone was very sad because they loved her, her voice, and her presence on stage.

Did she ever go onstage again?

Finally, she did. Because she realized she could do great things with her audiences. She could make change in the world that was really meaningful to her. So even though she was so afraid, she did it.

Ben gave a heavy, knowing sigh.

Mom? Who is she?

Barbara Streisand. You may not know her but she is so so so very famous for my generation.

So… I’m just like her? He asked.

Yes, sweetie, I suppose you are.

And I leaned over and kissed him goodnight.

As I walked down the stairs, I started to laugh.

A lot.

My son… and Barbara Streisand.

If he ends up gay? It really is my fault.

Ben needs a dressing room filled with white flowers only, like Jennifer Lopez, McDonald’s hamburgers cut into eighths, like Christina Aguilera, and obviously an artfully placed bucket to puke in, like Barbara Streisand.

So he can make it through the middle school concert. Almost reaching the stars by then.

I love my son. And I know, deep inside? He’s a diva.

He just needs some lessons.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hands



I often wish I had my mother’s hands. They were long and elegant. My hands are rough and clearly from a lineage of laborers. Jeanine can reach an octave with her hands, her fingers long and thin. My hands, although bigger, cannot make the stretch.

No wonder I never played piano.

The joke in our family was that only my mother’s hands would appear in the home videos. There is a vintage shot of my oldest sister being fed something in her high chair. She’s about a year old. From the side of the frame, the hands deliver a tray of food, gracefully placed in front of the baby.

The baby starts whipping all the food on the floor and again, gracefully, the hands appear to remove the tray.

I can only imagine what she was saying to my father who was filming the event.

Dammit, Bob, turn that thing off. I have to clean up this mess.

You’d never know that from the hands, though. They exuded calm and beauty. With most of the shots of us as babies, you only see her hands. Never all of her. She hated her picture being taken.

I wonder what my children think of my hands. Ben will, at times, hold his growing paw up to mine to see how far he has till having a shot at winning a thumb war. I remind him I am smarter and will probably always win. He knows better.

None of my boys want to hold my hand anymore. Where once it was a grounding safety net- I have mom’s hand, therefore I can walk into this new preschool and not be afraid- it is now a punishment, only demanded when they have been out of control in a public place. It is not a gentle hold. It is a firm, I have you and you better cool it hold.

OW! They complain until I add the look. The mother look. You know what I mean. Then they are quiet.

Somewhere in between, there was a time of I just really like being out with my mom handholding. I look forward to the day when that may return. It did for me with my mother.

As an adult, I would hook my arm around my mother’s arm. She was not keen on public displays of affection- no hugging, no kissing and certainly no handholding. As she grew older, and our visits were less frequent, she grew into hugs. And letting me hook my arm around hers.

I always felt her initial discomfort. I think it was because I was a lesbian and she wasn’t quite sure what it meant. She never did this with my brother, although she would allow him to escort her, holding her elbow to keep her steady. I would pull her close and carefully match her step. After a moment of stiffness, she would relax and lean back into me.

On a rare occasion, Ben has done the same thing to me. Pulled up close and hooked his arm into mine, leaning, walking side by pressed side. We typically have to be in another state, like California, where no one knows him.

Every once in a while, Jeanine holds my hand. As lesbians, we don’t often walk around in public holding hands. I never really feel safe except in a few places- San Francisco, Ogunquit, Provincetown. And… that’s pretty much it. I wonder if straight couples ever think about what a privilege it is to do a simple thing like holding hands.

There was one time Jeanine and I were returning from a Pride parade, long before kids, and kissed in the car at a stoplight. Some teenage boys saw us and came and pounded on the hood of the car, yelling slurs at us.

I was terrified.

I stopped any displays of public affection, for a long time.

When I reach for Jeanine’s hand now, I ask if it’s okay. Neither of us has ever forgotten that moment. It’s not a given either of us feel safe enough in the moment to take that risk.

I don’t have my mother’s hands but I have a mother’s hands. Capable of both discipline with a quick squeeze and taking a child’s temperature, one hand on forehead, one on the back of the neck.

I may never play the piano but someday, I hope, my boys will reach with their grown up hands and want to hold mine.

And someday, in my own hometown, I will no longer need to ask to hold Jeanine’s.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Embarrassment


Ben is home sick today.

Of course, it is a day when I had a meeting planned. No one ever stays home sick on a day I’m at home.

I’ll start the painting in the back room and do the meeting via conference call. At least I won't have to put on a suit.

He’s not sick sick- you know, throwing up, fever sick. He’s I need a mental health day sick. When he came down and asked to watch TV, moments after I sent the others to school, I said, if you can watch TV, you could go to school.

He retreated to his room. Not that healthy.

A little while later I stopped into his room. I know what it’s like to need a mental health day. I just took one last week. I’m not backing down about the TV but I also don’t need to be mean.

Want a magazine? I have to go to the store to get some bread.

You’re going out like that? He asks. Even on his deathbed he’s going to see what everyone is wearing and send him or her out to change.

Ben…

You see, we’ve had this conversation before. It’s not so much about what I’m wearing- a paint spattered old shirt and jeans equally covered with the reminder of each room I’ve done in the house so far- it’s the pony tail.

My hair is long enough for a ponytail. When I am painting, I pull it back into one. Might not seem like a big deal but to Ben, it’s embarrassing. Two weeks ago, I was going out to breakfast with him to the Knotty Pine. Afterwards, I was going to paint. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, put on my spattered clothes, and went to get Ben.

MOM. You are NOT going like that.

The Knotty Pine is a small diner a couple blocks away. Not a fancy, yuppie diner but a real diner. Eggs, cracked vinyl seats, grease coated wallpaper.

Uh, yes I am.

MOM! It’s EMBARRASING.

Why?

You cannot wear a ponytail.

Why?

Mind you, I have about three inches of hair sticking out of the ponytail and it’s not like I’m wearing some rainbow tie with it.

Your hair… it …It just doesn’t work, Mom. Don’t do it.

Ben, we’re going to the Knotty Pine. I’m not taking a shower; I’m not doing my hair. Too bad, so sad.

Fine, he sniffed indignantly, embarrass yourself.

I put on a baseball cap.

MUCH better, he said.

Just a few minutes ago, I walked into his room with his People Magazine.

Oh, Mom… he said, weakly. Not even a hat?

Nope, I said and tossed the magazine on his bed.

My friend Margaret, the Martha Stewart of parenting, said I was doing my job by embarrassing the boy.

I can remember my mother insisting on going to the grocery store in a green, velour sweat suit, circa 1978. I thought I was going to die. Some things, like utter embarrassment over your mother’s appearance, never change.

Margaret did add I really was too old for a ponytail.

Even at the Knotty Pine.

And just like my mother? I did it anyway.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Groupie



Friday night I stayed out till 2am.

Yup.

It’s been 19 years since I was in a bar for last call.

Nineteen.

I went to listen to a friend’s band.

Cool. I was cool for the night. As I was leaving a meeting earlier in the day, my friend and co-worker asked where my hat was. I hate hats, I said.

It’s freezing outside but you do look cool, she said with a motherly eye roll.

Friday night? I was cool. Hip. Drinking beer.

I hate beer but what else do you drink at a bar that boasts of twenty kinds in bottles, another 15 on tap?

Okay, I tried a martini first but it was awful. The bartender, about twelve years old, started to pour vermouth in it.

NO! I shouted.

He looked stunned.

I wasn’t sure what Belvedere, straight up, no vermouth with a twist meant to him but it certainly didn’t equate to what he was making.

That’s not how you make a martini. Do you know where using vermouth came from?

He was annoyed and didn’t answer. He started shaking the now sullied vodka, ignoring my request for a new mix.

Bathtub gin, I said, ignoring his lack of desire to know. During prohibition gin was so awful, they added vermouth to make it drinkable. You don’t need vermouth anymore.

Oh.

He poured the drink. And plunked a wedge of lime in it.

I guess he was really annoyed.

I smiled, left no tip and went back to the table.

My friend’s recent description of me crossed my mind- outrageously elitist. Yup. Fits.

Jeanine was laughing at me. What did you expect?

I scowled, feeling very old in a very hip place. I put the drink down and Jeanine slightly moved her leg, causing the wobbly table to spill half the martini.

She laughed. It sucked anyway.

It did.

You have to read the place, she said. Get a beer.

Jeanine, because of her job at Berklee College of Music, goes out to see students play in bars. She is cool. She sits with her glass of Guinness stout (with a side of diet coke, but that’s another blog), crosses her arms across her chest and leans back. She listens, thoughtfully. She takes notice of the musicians. She fits in.

I don’t like beer, I whined. A friend recently brought a bottle of beer over to the house for me. She knows I don’t like beer but said she bought it for the label.

The Wailing Wench.

Thanks, I said.

She pointed out the buxom woman on the front, saying looks just like ya.

Uh huh, I get it, I said.

Outrageously elitist. Yup. Fits.

So, I finally got hip and had a beer. The friend who we were going to see bought me one. She flashed her special MUSICAN tag and got them cheap. I ducked when the bartender came over. I was afraid I’d get a stout instead of the wheat beer I ordered.

With a lime in it.

Her band was great. As the clock ticked near two, though, I had to leave. They were still playing but the reality of my forty some odd year old body slammed the door. Time to go. Period. They will play again. I will be able to hear them another time. Everything does not have to be experienced in a single night.

I was cool for as long as I could be. But then, like superman faced with kryptonite, I crumbled. I’m a mom. I was up at 6:30am, ran around all day- fed the dog, made lunches, shooed the kids off to school, went to a meeting, gasped for air as I put Zachary’s laundry into the machine, drove the kids to Walter and Allan’s for their sleepover where I discussed Jake’s reading issues with Allan for a while, admired the new playroom Walter has created, fed the dog again, and stopped at the grocery store to pick up some fruit. Fruit seems to disappear around here like socks in the dryer.

As I walked out into the below zero degree night, I put on my gloves and turned up my coat collar, desperately wishing I had a hat.

Cool. But very cold.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Walking on Eggshells




People have commented to me that I have not written about Jeanine or our relationship in the blog for a while.

It’s because I’m afraid to rock the boat.

Things have been… nice. Calm. No rushing to make major decisions. No plans to move, build, buy, shift- just the daily chaos of life with three boys.

We are learning how to talk nice to each other. That might sound silly after fifteen years but believe me, it’s important.

Somewhere along the line, we stopped being nice. We shoved and pushed each other with our words. There was no patience, no thoughtfulness. It’s hard to have the same conversation over and over and not get annoyed with it. I know what she’s going to say, she knows what I’m going to say, so let’s get to it…

The problem? We don’t always know what the other is going to say. We forgot how to listen. We gave each other labels of ‘bossy’ and ‘demanding.’ We rolled eyes and settled into our trenches.

It made us safe- safe from disappointment, safe from the risk of being hurt, but it drove a deep wedge between us. When I stood in the garage last summer, desperate to get Jeanine’s attention, she was too far-gone to know my heart was breaking.

We had long ago stopped listening.

Sure, we could have great conversations about the world. We could discuss the kids. But the tender ear of a new lover was long lost, as was the desire to know every little thought, the nuance of each feeling.

It wasn’t a matter of choice as it was a lack of attention. The details are often shared when you are first locked in your new lover’s arms. It’s when you ask someone their favorite ice cream, when they learned to ride a bike and about the first time they fell in love. For me, the drive and desire to know every inch of her, not just her body but also her mind was because I was falling in love with her. It was new, fresh and all encompassing. I wanted to know all of her experiences. What made her smile. What made her cry. I wanted the intensity of an orgasm in my conversations with her.

Somewhere along the line, daily life intrudes. You can’t stay in bed all the time. You can’t keep up the level of intense conversations, either. Add a couple kids, mortgage, work, friends… suddenly I can’t remember the last time I sat with Jeanine and really talked. Not about who was getting the kids or how late she would be working but what were our goals for the next ten years? How did we want to grow as individuals and how did we want our relationship to grow?

It’s about being thoughtful. Daily. To take the time to lean over and kiss her in the morning before getting out of bed to let the dog out, to get Jake breakfast and to begin the day. And not just a quick smooch, but a held moment. To know what I’m doing, not out of repetition but out of a desire to be there, in that moment, with her.

Throughout the difficult times we’ve had this past year- and we have had quite a few- one constant is my love of being in bed with her. Sleeping. Okay, more than that, but we’re working with the Weezie meter here. Having her there, every morning, even when I was mad at her? It was a gift. And a reminder.

It’s something to celebrate, if but only for a moment, each day.

As we start taking careful steps to hard topics, we have to learn how to be nice again. We must remember not only to listen but how amazing it feels to be heard. For all our years together, we never forgot how to make love to each other, how to keep our bodies alive to each other’s touch.

We, however, forgot how to be thoughtful. Every day. With our words.

These first few steps are cautious. We have both been hurt by each other.

I am afraid.

And hopeful.

We have no choice but to be thoughtful. The path in front of us is covered with eggshells.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Full Time Parents




The other day, Allan informed me that gum had been outlawed in their house.

I outlawed it a long time ago, when I found gum stuck to the wooden floor, an inch away from my carpet.

Still, the boys would come home with gum from Walter and Allan’s house, often chomping on it as they walked into the house.

In the trash, I would demand.

Awwww. Walter and Allan let us… they would whine.

And that’s the beauty of going to their house, I would say as I pointed to the trash bin and watched as each piece was spit out.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was to let go of control when the kids were with Walter and Allan. To trust their judgment. And when I didn’t trust their judgment, understand no one would be maimed, killed or seriously harmed by swigging down 2 liters of Mountain Dew in a two-hour period of time. Or by eating massive quantities of fruit roll ups. If five were consumed, then five would come out the other end, probably intact.

Sure, there would be puking, but not on my rugs.

They get to ride bikes around the neighborhood- not my safe, suburban neighborhood but a city neighborhood. And not just their street but a full circle block. Ben walks into the center by himself, goes to Dunkin Donuts and walks back. Neither are things I would have let my kids do but watching them do it has been a powerful lesson to me.

When I let go? The kids win.

When Walter first came to pick up Ben and take him out, he had to overcome the fact that Ben was a Momma’s boy. The first three months of Ben’s life? I didn’t even trust Jeanine with him. So he had to find a way to get Ben to be willing to leave the house without me- and for me to be willing for Ben to leave the house without me, too.

Dunkin Donuts was the answer. Less than a quarter mile away, they could walk there. And have donuts. And chocolate milk. And more donuts.

Oh, they just need calories, Walter would say when returning my completely buzzed on sugar child.

Uh huh, I would nod, knowing there would be no sleep for hours until the sugar ran dry. I knew Walter was wrong about the calories but I knew he was right about the treat being a strong enough incentive to get Ben to go out with him, alone.

As the years have progressed, I watched Zachary come back from Dunkin Donuts and the expanded addition of a visit to the park with a diaper so full it sagged to his knees-

Oh, does that need to be changed? Walter would feign surprise.

It must have left a streak on the slide, I thought but only shook my head, commenting how I thought there was a fresh diaper in the bag.

It was Walter’s prerogative. He was a big brother in those days. Coming to spend time with the kids, he wanted to be fun and candy and donuts and laughter. It was perfect.

Fast-forward 8 years… there is no gum at Walter and Allan’s house. Where once there was a towel put over the Stickley coffee table in the living room for TV dinners in front of the TV? The boys are required to set the table, clean up and help cook – a routine started there that has been adopted here. Of course, I never let the kids eat in front of the TV.

Okay, except during the Patriots or Red Sox games.



For a long time, I was the police. (Even Jeanine is considered the ‘nice mom’ by the kids. You make us do stuff, they complain.) Walter and Allan were fun, fun and more fun. It served a purpose- I knew it then and I know it now. The kids grew comfortable and safe with them. I do the same thing with my nieces and the other kids in my life I adore. I don’t have to be the parent. I am fun.

But Walter and Allan are parents now. No more fun. Not only are rules to be followed, we talk extensively about what examples are important to show the kids. Do they get allowance and for what? How do we teach appreciation for what they have, a healthy work ethic and still show them the world? It's a four way conversation.

Today at Walter and Allan's house? Clothes have to be put away in separate containers with their names- we try to keep enough clothes for the kids at their house so nothing goes back and forth in a suitcase. I have always felt that it makes it their home to have pj’s, toothbrushes and clothes at the ready.

No backtalk, you help take the trash to the curb, and while bedtime is still later than here? Bedtime is bedtime. Leave your toys out? Gone. I threaten to throw them away? Allan does throw them away. Video games are allowed, to an extent, and then it’s shut down, everyone out, go play.

The kids have bikes over there, baseball gloves and a basketball hoop. Walter has been hard at work to redo their basement into a game room/kids place.

For me? I knew the day we asked Walter to be involved, to take the role as Big Brother, we would be faced with sharing the kids. Often. As it is, the boys go at least one weekend night for a sleepover. Today when I drove away from the Pediatrician, finding Jake had an ear infection, I called Jeanine. Then Walter. Then Allan. Only after I left a message for Allan did I realize how far we’ve come.

They don’t allow gum in the house. When I heard this I giggled. I knew you’d figure that out, I said.

Well, there was a piece wedged into the carpet, Walter said.

I banned it years ago and last week I found the cat playing with an old, chewed piece in Zach and Jake’s room, I responded.

If they would only be more careful, he said.

And I smiled. Because we are all parents now. Full time. Jeanine and I are lucky to live in their school district and get to claim them for the weekdays. While I no longer have to worry about late bedtimes, too many sweets or saggy diapers, there has been a price.

I had to give up control. I had to give up ownership.

The result?

My boys have two moms, two dads and no divorce. (At least not yet.)

We all win.

Confession




Yesterday, I goofed off.

I did not do the laundry. I have taught the boys to bring their laundry to the basement when they need it done. This of course means they wait until every last piece of clothing has been worn- at least twice- before hauling the brimming baskets to the basement. Stunned at my inefficiency, they fought this morning over the last pair of clean socks.

I did not pay any bills. Okay, that is not unusual for me, as I tend to look at the pile and move it to another place in my office until it comes full circle back to my desktop, a day before their due date.

I did not finish my book proposal, although it sits 98 percent done. This is my own way of sabotaging myself. If it’s not done, then I don’t have to send it out and I won’t be rejected. Clever, huh?

I did not get archival ink so I could print out my photos to hang at a friend’s office- a very casual gallery space. Or look into framing them. Again, if the photos aren’t printed and framed, I can’t really go hang them. If I don’t hang them, I don’t have to take myself seriously as a photographer.

I did not exercise. This was probably the only thing that was okay to skip. I do run six days a week. My body needs a break. I am slowly coming around to the reality that I cannot run six days a week anymore.

I did not make a doctor’s appointment for Jake, or dentist appointments for the whole crew, including me. What’s another day? Well… I’ve been saying that for about a month.

I did not deal with flight changes emailed to me telling me the very convenient flight over the April vacation I booked a while ago has been changed. What was once a non-stop, easy traveling alone with three boys (why do all parents say they are traveling ‘alone’ when in fact, they have their children with them?) will now be a late in the afternoon, guaranteed to be delayed, connection filled nightmare.

I… went and had a facial.

Because when you are a suburban housewife? You get to take the day sometimes and do something really self-indulgent.

I am learning how to slow down, how to be more patient, more deliberate in my life. A friend said to me at lunch the other day, you know, I could be really stressed about my day today. I have a lot to do. Or I could see a list of things I am really looking forward to, things I choose to do.

Today I will tackle the laundry and appointments. I will write one more paragraph for my book proposal, making it 99 percent done. I will pick up where I left off Tuesday, not with a panic but with an even pace.

The best perk of being a housewife? It’s okay to goof off for a day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rambling Thoughts on the State of the Union Address

Seeing the President last night reminded me of a line in one of those mass emails you get from friends. I loved it. Someone should send it to Bush.

“Remember... Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

I wish Bush would stand in a garage instead. He’d make a much better car than he does a Christian.

Minority students are closing the gaps? Where are his stats from? Minority students fail at a 70 percent rate in Florida. That’s a system successful at failing minority students.

The right to choose someplace better to go to school? Are we going to ship the Florida students to Iowa? Talk about a serious commute…

Why can’t the Republicans say something original for once? Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts… and where has that landed our society? Are there fewer homeless? Better schools? Drugs for seniors? To hell with the seniors, where are my drugs?

Clean coal technology? Did you see Cheney smirk when he said that? Is that like, not a failure, just a success that hasn’t happened yet?

Does anyone out there get the scare tactics being used here? Mighta, coulda, woulda… bad things happen if you don’t lock your door at night.

Did Condoleezza go out drinking the night before? Do they have a special cue to pan to her as soon as she looks absolutely horrible? I’m no fan but geeze, cut her some slack.

Was John McCain sleeping or using his Blackberry?

Okay, Nancy? Lose the green sparkles. We get the whole stay at home mom turned high-powered Congresswoman. And stop chewing your lip.


Mercenaries? Did he just say, we will hire mercenaries? Civilian corps for those who can’t pass the physical? Heck, Let’s empty death row and let those motherfuckers go shoot some of those insurgents. Lowers the tax burden.

Always back to taxes.

Enough for now. I just gave my sister in law- the Florida Republican- enough ammo to scream at me for a week.

Or send me about twenty of those mass emails a day to prove her point.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

All of It

My Grandfather.

I haven’t thought about my grandfather for a long time. Last night, I had a dream about him.

He was a tall, elegant man. My mother called him Daddy to the day he died, when he was 75 years old and she 48. There were always a lot of rules when we went to go visit him in North Carolina. And, while my mother would bend rules at home or give us unheard of freedom at times, there was no messing with her when it came to her father’s house.

To me, he was gentle, kind and smelled like sweet pipe tobacco. At his house, my mother’s rule was children were to be seen, not heard. We would be sequestered in the back room, an addition built to house a pool table. He would come back, on occasion, and talk with us, play a little pool. Mostly, from that room, I remember a tray of his pipes. I would pick them up and hold them. I loved the smell.

He had a special den off the kitchen. All leather and his own television, it was where he sat when at home. My mother and Grandmother would sit on the couch and he would recline in his chair, master of the room. There were two ways into the room, one from the back, down a long hall, the other from the kitchen. I would, at times, sneak in the back way. He would let me climb up and sit in his lap. I know I snuck in there to see my mother, but he would always scoop me up.

I felt safe with him. He was the only man, as a child, I felt safe with.

He would ask me questions, in his sweet southern drawl. My mother would tense on the couch, fearful of what would come out of my mouth, just as, years later, I would tense when she would ask my boys questions, fearful of what would come out of their mouths.

I remember the last time I saw him. He had been sick for a while- mouth cancer had left him unable to eat solid food. He became desperately thin and scowled at the pureed food put before him. I did not venture down the back hall to see him. My mother told me not to. He was too sick. The panic in her voice kept me away. I was fifteen, awkward and self-conscious. I didn’t know how to be around someone who was dying.

When we left, he came out to the driveway to wish us goodbye. I instinctively hugged him and kissed his cheek. He was the only relative I wanted to hug and kiss, the only one no one forced me to acknowledge.

He winced in pain.

My mother scolded me.

No, he said, holding his face, there is something terribly wrong if it hurts to be kissed by your sweet granddaughter.

And he walked back in the house.

Years after he died, my mother told me of how he struggled to accept adopted children as his own. We were not blood. As he lay dying, she told him they were all there, his wife, her, and his son, my mother’s half brother. No, he said. My grandchildren are not here. It was a gift to her, his acknowledgement.

I always felt loved by him.

Maybe because I was the youngest, maybe because I would sneak down the hall to sit with him, maybe because my tall, thin body was similar to my mother’s even though it came from another womb, I never felt his discomfort. I never knew he saw me as anything less.

I dreamt last night of being in his house, with the tall columns out front, the goldfish pond in the back. Of the Boston terrier he had, an old dog everyone was afraid would bite us children, that I insisted on making friends with, adding yet a few more gray hairs to my mother’s head.

In real life, the dog never bit me. My Grandfather would hush my mother. Let her be, he would say. She’s fine.

Just as my mother did when my boys would be running around her house, dangerously close to her delicate art.

As time goes on, my memories grow clearer, stronger of the horror I went through as a child. The trip, the tent, the apartment. I am finding, however, there is a real payback. I am remembering all of it. Not just my father’s leer and suffocating presence.

But my Grandfather sitting on the back porch, the ceiling fan slowly turning, smoking a cigar.

And smiling.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Believe it or Not

I talked to my mother tonight.

No, really.

I did a reading, over the phone, with a woman in Kansas. Never met her before. She identified my ‘spirit guides.’

Your mother, she laughed, is very chatty.

My mother was indeed chatty. When she had energy, before she was sick, the woman could talk all day. Literally.

There were things this woman said, without a hint of information from me that blew me away. There were sentences she said that were word for word what my mother had said to me in the past.

It is time, she said, to let the pain in my heart go. It was safe for my heart to be healed.

Keep writing, she said. Over and over. Don’t quit. Don’t be discouraged.

There was mention of mouthwash. You’re bothered by it, the woman said. You’re bothered by your mother and mouthwash… and she started to laugh. That sounds silly… I stayed silent on the other end. I was stunned. My history with my mother and mouthwash isn’t anything I’ve ever written about before.

There is a basket of hers you have… and you found her glasses?

I had found a pair of her glasses in a basket I brought from her house. I had taken them out and held them for a long time. I wasn’t sure what to do with them.

Your mother was there when you found her glasses.

I knew that without the angel lady telling me that. Having her tell me that? From Kansas? I never wrote about it in my blog or in any published essay- to be honest I didn’t even mention the moment to Jeanine.

So, you may think I did this to hear from my mother. I signed up for this session over a year ago. Long before my mother was sick. Long before she died. I was trying to think about all the doors open to me and which ones I should go through.

Be patient and write was the answer. See the good in yourself.

And get Ben the cell phone he wanted for Christmas, for heavens sake. Tell him it’s from her, too. (Another direct quote)

Yesterday, while waiting for friends to come over to watch the football game? Ben was talking with Zachary. About his Christmas list and the one thing he didn’t get.

A cell phone.

Grandma would have given me one, he said confidently. Then paused and said, No, she would have given me the money to get one. I know she would have.

Maybe she just did.

What strikes me the most? The voice, the words ‘repeated’ were so true to my mother’s voice. The way she spoke. And it was only the good stuff. The words and encouragement she gave me when we were close. The nightmares I’ve been having about her are all the negative words and feelings, piled into three hours of REM sleep. The words I heard tonight were a shift forward. A place of healing.

This has been a hard year, she said to me. Slow down. You are in a completely new place. Everything has changed. Be patient.

Maybe it’s all a hoax, although I’m not sure how anyone could get that level of information or would bother for so little money. Maybe I heard what I wanted to hear, although I will get a tape of the conversation in a couple days and will be able to replay it.

Right now, I’d like to think I talked to my mother tonight.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pats....

Tonight, I had my family here.

We always have a big superbowl party. Fifty people, easy.

The big game though? Just family.

I love my family, my sisters, my husbands. Hara, Eleni, Anya, Beth, Terry, Ari... and of course, Walter and Allan.

Go Pats... four minutes to go.

Who will win?

Me.

I am the luckiest woman in the world.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ceiling, Trim and Then Walls




The date? Playdate? What do I call getting together when you are eleven? Way too young for dating, even though they play with the words. Way too old to have a playdate.

Ben’s night with his friend was much fun.

For me? The Celtics lost. Again. But I had much fun with Jake and my friends.

When I got home, a full description was in order. Allan reported silliness, goofiness and a general good time had by all. There was a little bit of snuggling toward the end of the evening, carefully monitored.

Ben was so sweet when I walked in. The expression, floating on cloud nine- popularized by the 1950’s radio show Johnny Dollar (I had to look it up)- was a perfect description of Ben.

What was the best part of the night? I asked.

[Friend] coming over, he sighed.

Oh, the boy has it bad. He adores this girl.

And, to think, they both have the same Fergalicious dance moves.

Scary but true.



And today, I am painting.

Okay, not painting yet. 90 percent of the work of painting happens before – prepping, taping, spackling, sanding. I love when the walls are smooth to the touch. Of course I swore I would never again take down wallpaper- as I always do when taking down wallpaper- and I wasn’t even doing the steaming. Donald was.

When we talked about doing work on the house I balked. I hate having people in my house. But when Jeanine said, well, it could be Donald… I said, sure. I like having him around. He’s easy, chats sometimes, and is quiet others. Personally, I can spend hours silent partly because I’m comfortable with it and partly because it’s the space I let my mind wander to find words for the next story, blog, or essay.

Donald could live here. I’d be fine with that. There are very few people I could say that about.

I love to paint. For about two rooms and then I don’t want to see another paintbrush ever again. I am meticulous and can cut a mean line although I have resorted to tape in recent years. After two rooms? I am no longer meticulous. I’m annoyed, sick of being covered in paint and want it all finished. Time to stop. I cannot, however, pay someone to paint. There has only been one person who did as good a job as me. And he cost a ton. And lives in Rochester.

The in-between- when there is no color, only smooth walls and seemingly sterile cloths draped over a room- is silence to me. Anticipation. As the paint is brushed on, color and pigment cover old blemishes. Suddenly, it’s new again. Ceilings, then trim, then walls. I can barely wait for the walls.

I’m going to do the walls first, I said to Donald as I scrubbed off old glue.

Okay, he said, still guiding the steamer over the last small parts of wallpaper.

I know I’m not suppose to.

He didn’t answer. Just kept pulling off paper with one hand, running the steamer with the other.

I want to be sure it’s the right color…

And then I knew I would do the ceilings, then trim and walls. I can wait. It is what I am learning now. Don’t rush forward.

I wish I could explain that to Ben. And his friend, who is a sweet, wonderful, smart kid who is also feeling the peer pressure to reach for not just the next year but the next five years. It is so intense, the pressure. I know. But still… please. Slow down.

Ceiling, trim and then walls. The glorious walls full of saturated colors, the final touch, everything complete.

You’ll get there soon enough. Be eleven years old. Giggle. Be silly. Lie side by side on the floor doing the bicycle and laughing without the pressure of being sixteen.

Sixteen will come soon enough.

Enjoy your Dads, their lack of directional skills, or their insistence on eating dinner before the show. It is your job to roll your eyes. It is theirs to be certain in their uncertainty.

Just as I know I need to slow down and enjoy every day. To take the time to see every detail and the bigger picture.

Ceiling, trim and then walls.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Nerves

Ben is very nervous right now.

A friend is coming over.

To watch- hold on- American Idol.

Four hours of American Idol.

Personally, I'd rather shoot myself. I don't have to because Allan is here as chaperone. I get to go to a Celtics game.

There is a scene in a movie, Home Before Dark, by Maureen Foley, where the Aunt has made platters of beautiful food for her niece and her friends. The niece is struggling in a new environment and has few friends. Her Aunt, played by Katherine Ross, has never had children. The food reflects her lack of understanding.

Tonight, I made trail mix, fresh fruit salad, and all the makings for a taco salad- separate dishes so no unwanted food would touch anything else. Ben's friend is a little hard to peg when it comes to eating.

I feel like the aunt. The food is gorgeous. I'm sure they'll pop a bag of microwave popcorn, grab some pop and ignore the other food.

In the meantime, Ben is nervous and yelling at his little brother- who is going with me to the Celtics- about everything and anything.

Four hours. American Idol.

Yikes.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Night Visits




Before my mother died, I had few dreams about her, only on rare occasions. I had the real her to contend with while awake. It was enough. Now that she’s dead, I find I dream about her all the time. It is always about her being dead and not being dead anymore. Someone has made a mistake. Either she was found in her casket still alive- odd, seeing that she was cremated- or she literally comes back from the ashes because her wishes were not being followed.

I told you she said she’d haunt us if we didn’t follow her wishes. Obviously, I believed her.

Every night I this week she has been alive in my dreams. Each night it is different.

Last night, she was mad at me for burying her while she was still alive. Hey, I didn’t know. In the dream, I’m confused because I remember the urn going into the niche. I know she wasn’t buried.

And she was mad I was not working.

How do you expect to pay for moving expenses? She demanded.

We were standing in the garage of my childhood home. She had the keys to my car. All I wanted, in the dream, was Jeanine. She was finishing school somewhere. I had to wait, at my mother’s house, until she was done.

I kept trying to dial the phone to tell Jeanine to come get me.

I mean, I kept seeing the urn go into the niche and yet she was standing there holding my car keys. She got smarter in death because she never took my keys away in real life. The car was my ultimate getaway. Took me a few years before I realized I could simply drive away. I’m in that garage- carport actually- thinking, no, this is not right.

At least she wasn’t demanding her stuff back. Those dreams seem to be fading away as her things become mine.

I want contact with her. I want to know I didn’t do anything wrong when I picked up the white urn with my brother and sister and put her on the ledge. I tucked her in with pictures of her boys- Ben, Zach and Jake. Letters from them.

I want to tell her about my day last Friday. I did something she would have been so proud of. Something I could have shared with her in a deep, meaningful way. She would have understood my sheer joy. She would have applauded my commitment to my beliefs.

I want her to stop haunting my dreams. I want her to be alive while I take these incredible steps.

And I know, in my heart, I could not have taken these steps while she was alive.
I will settle for the dreams. I see their transition. For now, she is still annoyed with me. In time, though, I know she will be smiling.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Letter




It starts,

“I was a pretty poor excuse for a parent.”

He was.

“I can think of some things that I did and I am sure you can think of many more.”

I can.

“I didn’t know what being a good parent involved or how to go about it.”

Must say, walking around naked, pushing porn on your kids and masturbating around them wasn’t the best choice. I think a man with a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University would understand that.

“And of course the schizophrenia didn’t help any.”

No, it didn’t. Waking up to an apartment with ashtrays turned upside down, peanut butter with cornflakes burned in a frying pan on the stove, and furniture flipped gave my sister an early understanding of a psychotic break. He drove himself into trees, and explained to me how he heard God, or maybe it was the mafia, talking to him while he waited for the bus.

“So all you three children were raised under a handicap.”

Yes. We were. And we are all broken, to some degree. But I will only speak for myself. Shattered. It shattered my hope, my trust and my ability to breathe without being afraid of what was behind me.

If you think I’m leaving out lines, I am not. It was a simple letter. Sent after my mother died to my sister. Was he too afraid of my mother to admit his guilt? What would have happened if my mother could have read this?

I see a wall coming down between my sister and her. I’m heartbroken. My sister deserved the wall to come down. His admission. Finally, I imagine, I dream, my mother’s arms would be open to her. My father’s guilt makes it about him. Not about my mother. She could finally be free and hold my sister.

It was never my mother’s fault.

The letter is cleansing to me. I’m free. I’m not crazy. He has written countless letters to me that I have sent back, unopened. I did not want his filth anymore. I would not set him free.

But this? It gave me wings.

It gave me peace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fergalicious




Wait until you see my dance, Ben said to me when I returned home tonight. His new CD, by Fergie had come in the mail.

Dance?

Yes, it’s very good. Maybe even explicit.

Ben loves anything labeled explicit. He has no idea what it means or why we insist he doesn’t have these things at the age of eleven. We can’t, however, control what he sees at friend’s houses. I know at one house, he is watching MTV.

Walter has sat with Ben while he watched music videos.

I have sat with Ben while he watched music videos.

And we talk about it. What is she doing? I have asked of a young woman grinding away on the top of a piano singing about adultery.

I dunno, is usually his answer.

That’s boring. I mean, that’s all she can do is flaunt her body? Where’s the story? How does it relate to the song? I don’t get it.

Over and over, we talk about the images, what it says about the woman, what it says about the man, what roles they are playing and what reality is. We talk about anorexia. We talk about peer pressure. Body image. And it doesn't just come from his hysterical, feminist mother, but from Walter, too.

I would prefer Ben was not eleven going on twenty-six. I would prefer he did not watch music videos until he was old enough to understand the sexuality being shown. I am not a fool, though. I know he will see these images. I’d rather be the one to explain them.

Once, last summer, we took the dog on a walk. Ben asked for the Sims game- the ‘mature’ one, he said.

Why, I asked, do you want to see that?

I dunno, he said, nervously laughing.

Ben, do you want to have sex?

NO! He responded quickly.

Then games like that are for when you are older. When you are ready for that.

Yeah, but… the kid stuff is dumb.

Maybe with that game but not others. Try not to be in such a hurry, Ben. Just be your age, do things that are right for your age. Before you know it? You’ll be old enough for the adult version of the Sims.

Okay, Mom.

We continued to talk about what he was ready for. Maybe holding hands, he said.

That’s pretty cool, I said. It’s neat to start having new feelings. Kind of confusing, but fun, too.

At the time, I felt like I had stopped the rush forward to experience beyond his understanding and maturity level.

After hearing the description of the Fergalicious dance moves? I think it’s time for another discussion.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Find The Fish





Jake’s Junior Ranger Guide for the Muir Woods pointed us in the direction of the water. Find the fish, trout or salmon.

I can never find the fish, Walter said.

As we were walking, he noticed I kept my eyes on the stream.

Trying to find one? He laughed.

Yes. And it’s the wrong season. Still, I could not pull my eyes away from the water.

It reminded me of hunting for fossils. My father would take us, on occasion, on day trips to hunt for fossils. Once, we drove to Herkimer, New York, to look for Herkimer diamonds. A quartz crystal, with hardness, clarity and natural facets resembling diamonds, they are only found in a small area in and around the town of Herkimer. More often, though, we went to quarries and gravel pits closer to Rochester. Armed with a small rock pick and the desire to do anything but sit in his foul apartment for the day, I would settle in next to a shale wall.

I liked being out in the sun and away from my father.

While I was hunched over, picking through stones looking for hardened pieces of trilobites or shells, I learned how to focus in on a single moment, a piece of stone and block the rest out.

It probably saved my life.

Looking for the fish, like looking for a tiny remnant on a rock, pulled me so far away into myself I forgot all that was around me. I forgot my sons. I forgot Jeanine and Walter were walking with me. I lost focus on the whole picture.

Walter’s gentle tug pulled me back. I saw the branches on the trees. I saw the sun peaking through the redwoods.




I don’t need to lose the whole picture anymore.

I don’t need to be afraid.

It is deeply rooted in me, the need to be far away, to escape the present. A reflex.

I can look for the fish. For a moment. Two. But not at the cost of those around me.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Miss Adams Diner



Diner Food

Miss Adams Diner.

We always hit one diner while on vacation. We’ve been to the Miss Adams a few times now. Always good.

Fluffy omelets bum Allan out. The Miss Florence, in… uh… Florence, MA has the most perfect, flat grilled omelet.



The white toast was soaked with butter. Okay, anyone can do eggs but there is something special about going to a real diner.

Zachary ordered the same meal Walter did. And ate almost all of it- bacon, pancakes, eggs, hash browns.

Jake liked the straw container.


Ben said, oh, this is the place I was in a really bad mood last time!

Yup.

And by the end of the meal? Surprise. Bad mood again by the end.




It’s your fault, he said to me. Okay, he yelled it.

That’s a dollar.

Ben owes five from the weekend.

Big surprise.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

By Any Other Name...

“It’s not a failure. It’s a success that hasn’t happened yet.” Unknown Republican supporter of the Bush ‘strategy’ in Iraq.

Do people actually believe that bullshit? I honestly don’t believe the American people are that stupid.

The crumbling moral fiber of the country isn’t about recognizing gay marriages. It’s about leaders who refuse to accept reality.

I heard our president say it was his fault. It is easy to accept responsibility when there is no real personal consequence. How about, I accept responsibility and I will resign because I made a huge mistake and over three thousand American soldiers have died. Thousands more maimed and injured. I made the mistake, now I have to suffer the consequence.

Or better, I accept responsibility and to further show my personal commitment to my ‘new strategy,’ I am sending my own daughters over to serve this most noble cause.

It’s not his kids fault he’s an idiot. I’d rather have the resignation. And then, on a daily basis, the American people can watch the real architect of this war in action- Dick Cheney.

With his lesbian daughter and her wife and their baby who are crumbling the very moral fiber we are fighting this war for- or is it oil. I keep forgetting not to read between the lines.

But let’s all remember. It’s not a failure. It’s merely a success in a liar’s clothing.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Special Consideration


Our legislators believe Gay Marriage needs special consideration. A vote on it's merits.

Health Care? Nope.

Public Education? Nope.

Gay Marriage? Yup.

Tonight, we continue to rip the fabric of moral society apart. We are in North Adams at the Porches Inn. Every year we take the kids on the long winter weekend to swim outdoors in a heated pool, go tubing down snow packed hills and see the new exhibit at the Mass Museum of Contemporary Art.

Downright heathen stuff.

The first year, there was a giant, pink intenstine. I mean, two stories high and winding all through the exhibit hall.

The next year the boys walked through one of the exhibits- it was torn pages of a book scattered on the floor. Heck, it looked like their room until the museum guard came over and quietly said, That's the artwork. Please don't step on it.

Okay.

I'm telling you, it's enough to add a point or two to the rapture meter. Yes, there is an actual meter. www.raptureready.com

Because you don't want to be caught not ready for the rapture.

In the car tonight, as we pulled into North Adams, Zachary said, I wonder what they'll have this year.

Last year was the weird carnival, Ben said.

Yeah, it was cool, Jake said.

Walter started to explain the exhibit is the largest they have ever tried to install and it may not be ready but the boys kept talking about the museum.

Our family is frightening. When all seven of us showed up at the 99 Restaurant tonight? We needed a big booth AND a chair at the end.

The two love birds in the hot tub aren't having much of a romantic moment now that Walter has Ben and Zachary in the pool. And it's 10PM! Beyond bad parenting, he's playing, laughing and splashing with them.

Better make sure we have a vote on this kind of horror. Better be sure there isn't too much happiness happening for anyone who doesn't fit the Christian Conservative image of perfection.

As Martin Niemoeller said so well...

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Let us be careful when we decide to take a majority vote on a minorities right. Let us be careful when we close our eyes to 'someone else's problem.'

Two Moms, Two Dads, No divorce.

Give us a break.

Please.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Over the Top


Where is my easy button?

Why, when doing laundry, am I missing not only socks, but also pants? Jake has no pants. Where did they go? Not just the khaki, dress ‘em like lesbians pants, but his jeans. I’ve looked under the bed. I’ve looked behind the dryer. I’ve looked in the other boy’s dressers.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Why, when you’re on the phone with someone you are trying to be calm, cool and collected with, do the kids have the worst, screaming fights? I was on the phone with a colleague a few minutes ago and I heard the Ben screaming, DON’T SPIT ON ME JAKE!

How do you gracefully exit a call about addressing the well being of small children in our society to go kill your own?

How do I go from the greatest mom on earth for arranging a viewing of Ben’s favorite show- American Idol- with a friend he hasn’t seen in a for a while- MOM! Thankyouthankyouthankyou, you so rock- to someone who is, and this is a direct quote, “trying to ruin my life!”

It’s a talent, I wanted to say but simply closed his bedroom door so the rant would no longer be heard throughout the house, down the street…

Why do I have to say, No throwing rocks, every day to Jake? I know, Mom, but… and he always goes on to describe a great wrong he could not bear to let pass by without an appropriate retaliation. Rock throwing is always the appropriate retaliation. Maybe I should try that with my family of origin.

I have to go make dinner- something everyone will hate due to the vegetable content, I’m sure. Once, one night, I would love it if the kids said, Wow. You’re making us broccoli? You must really love us.

And give me a big hug of thanks.

Okay, that's over the top.

Like I said, where’s my easy button?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

IM Etiquette


My son taught me how to IM tonight.

Of course, in reality, my niece taught me how to IM a long time ago. She was kind and didn’t laugh too much at my ignorance of short cuts, smiley faces and general etiquette around IM’ing.

Tonight was Ben’s turn to teach his mom. He had learned from his friend on Saturday.

Mind you, I was in my office and he was about six feet away from me at the family computer in the back room.

☺ im out of the tub

I see that.

u on?
hi mom

hi sweetie

[friend’s IM address] was not on

is that [friend]?

yo mom, YES!
u see.

yo, ben OKAY

ok.
i will send u slangs 4 IMing

slangs for IMing?

okay=ok or k

yeah, and?

for or four=4

cool. got it

>:o mom u r so out of date

hey, I’m at least IMing…
>:o back at ya
i:’( boo hoo!

:-[
embarrassed

you=u
:-D u r so :-[

At this point, I’m done. Yes, I know what all the symbols mean. And I’m done. He’s a few feet away, should be brushing his teeth and getting ready to read. Not IM’s but a book. He’s giggling and typing away when I am standing behind him.

No, go do your reading NOW. I’m not amused.

Okay, okay, he said, exiting the program.

In a few years, I’m going to be begging for an IM or two. Right now, he’s still an eleven-year-old boy. Mind you, he wants to be twenty-six but… he’s not. He still falls fast asleep at 8:32pm after being tucked in at 8:30pm.

And practices kissing on the bathroom mirror.

He still- when no one and I mean no one is around- crawls into my lap to be held.

My oldest child, he will always be teaching me things. How to IM. When to point out the lip smudges on the bathroom mirror and when to wash the rolled up socks without question.

Most importantly? How to parent an eleven-year-old boy.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wedding Photos



My mother's smile. It was her wedding day. She wore a silk dress with beautiful hand stitched lace; she held a bouquet of spring flowers.

I held roses.



Her groom did not smile.



His face was tense. Nervous around so many people. I don't remember him liking a lot of people around. Just gin and Judy Collins on the stereo.



My bride smiled.



But my marriage to a woman is threatening the fabric of society.

My father sexually abused me. He sexually abused my older sister.

In his dark suit, with a thin tie, he was welcomed. If he accepts Jesus as his savior? He can go to heaven.



We were children. His children.

But my marriage is crumbling the foundation of the civilized world.

Can someone explain this to me?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hall Pass, Signed by Jesus Himself... Or Else.

Tonight, I walked into Ben’s room to kiss him goodnight. On his wall of posters of the young and glamorous rock stars and actors, one had been ripped down.

Who’d you get rid of? I asked.

Hillary Duff.

Why?

She’s turning into an anorexic rabbit, he said.

Oh.

How quickly someone’s moment of fame can rise and fall. One day, pop princess, next day, anorexic rabbit.

I had dinner with a friend tonight and we talked a long time, until the waiter passed by, unwilling to refill our water glasses for the tenth time. She’s known me almost as long as any friend I have. It is a comfortable relationship, full of bantering about sex and deeply honest revelations about who we are. We start global, and as each course is served, zero in how we see each other and ourselves.

With an outrageous mushroom soufflé and sautéed calamari, we talked about people’s need to be better than someone else, like the conservative push to take away gay and lesbians civil rights in this state. Someone always has to be better, more glorious, and more perfect. Their god is the right god. A child killed without accepting Jesus as his/her savior is destined to hell. Is heaven a special country club or something? Queers, Jews, Muslims- basically anyone who doesn’t agree with their prescription for life- need not apply?

But then, some Jews won’t have us and a lot of Muslims won’t, so I guess we really are on our own.

How can anyone truly be bothered by our marriages? How can someone think our lives can change the world, ending all that we know? If I was that powerful, I would have been able to get the super majority of votes needed to vote the ballot question down.

And, most importantly, is it a coincidence some of the most moral people we know are atheists? Morality for morality’s sake. Not for some key to heaven. Or perhaps is it a hall pass, like in high school, if it's not signed by Jesus your going to detention.

With roasted duckling in a Madeira glaze and seared sea scallops, we moved on to our own needs to be great at something. How, almost at midlife, we are realizing we will never be great at any one thing. Our posters will never adorn someone’s wall. The best we can do, she said, is be okay with being who we are. Really good. Not the best, sure, but good enough.

I thought again about my friend’s funeral in December. How her kids stood up and talked about what a great mother she was. Her grandson said she was the smartest person in the world. Her community showered praise for her efforts to make the world a better place. To me, she was great. Outside of her circle, her community? No one knew her name.

We moaned about our failures as parents. How often we say what we didn’t want to. How often we sounded like our own mothers, the ugliness that can escape our lips.

We know, I said to her, how to say we’re sorry. That’s the difference. And maybe that’s all we can give our kids.

With crème brulee, we talked about giving up the need to be great. Accepting we are normal. Average. We don’t have to be the best at anything to be happy. It doesn’t mean not working hard, or trying with all our ability. It means accepting we are mere mortals and it’s okay. We don’t have to be great to be loved.

In fact, the people who love us, with our shortcomings, for who we are today, are who really matter in our lives. You’re bossy and difficult to be sure, she said to me. I hope your marriage can work. Because even though you are a pain in the ass? It would be a tremendous loss for Jeanine.

Driving home, I thought about how I have for so long wanted to be great. At something. Anything. To be recognized as special, worthy of praise and attention. If the world saw me as special, I would win my mother’s pride. Ensuring a place in her heart, a special place saved for very few. Not unlike some people’s heaven. It felt like I needed a special pass to get in and to stay there.

I may not make it into some other people’s idea of heaven. I’m willing to bet they are wrong about the special key to get in. Like the gods of Greek and Roman mythology, I believe their ideas are outdated and simplistic.

I’ll never be on a poster wall in some kid’s bedroom, only to be ripped down when I’m too old, too fat, too skinny, too gray or… sooooo yesterday.

But you know what? It’s not about being great. It’s about being happy.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Last Line Crossed



My sister wrote me after my Christmas Day blog. The post made her realize there was a so much of my mother she never knew. When I read the passage by Annie Lamott the other day, I realized I am not done with my grief. Nor is my sister.

There are people around us who are invested in keeping us quiet. Telling us we are wrong. We don’t remember things right. Can we please stop talking about it?

We remember what we remember. We feel what we feel. I am so grateful I have her willingness to talk about the hard things. The painful pieces she would rather forget forever. But when I tell her I need to say it, again? She sits down and listens. Opens her heart.

It is so hard to read my sister’s belief that she did something so horrible my mother could never find a way to forgive her. The abuse ripped a hole in my sister, one she ached to have her mother’s love heal.


I always wondered why Mom wouldn't connect with me like you. I mean she would tell me about dinner with [friends], but she'd never go further, into the shrimp boats, into anything that she was really feeling. I always wondered why she didn't go there with me. But I have at least figured out part of it out. It is not that she didn't go there; it is that she wouldn't go there.

So now the question has become why? Was she so mad at me for stealing her husband that I could never be forgiven? Was she so drunk that she couldn't see how crazy that was to blame for me that? Or, what I think is true, something so terrible happened in those early years that she could not find a way to forgive me and thus would never allow herself to get close to me.

That's why her "I always loved message" was so important. Because she knew she had spent her life not loving me and wasn't going to die with that on her shoulders. I wonder what it was about me, or what I did that was so horrible to her? We will never know…what a wonderful thing to live with…


My response:

Mom did love you.

But you know, she knew she fucked up- and fucked up bad.

I believe it is why she could not get sober. Even with her sheer joy about her grandchildren, she could not get sober. She could not face herself.

It wasn't about you. It was never about you. It was about her. And how she perceived herself. It was never about anybody else. Just her. How she was affected, how she responded, what she did, her failure, her agony... I believe she thought very little of herself. She thought she was a piece of shit and bemoaned that her whole life.

When you were 17 years old, she threw you out to live with Dad in a drunken rage. The very man she divorced because, as she said over and over, a social worker told her to get him out of the house. She was so rageful in the moment, she sent you to a certain fate. Remember how she called you the next day and begged for you to come home? She knew she was wrong. Beyond wrong.

She knew about his abuse, regardless of what she said in the end, she knew. When confronted with the social worker’s warning, she did the one thing she could- divorced him. It was the most selfless thing she ever did. She loved you. She was trying to protect you.

And she fucked up big. I mean, really big. As a parent? I can not imagine the guilt she felt.

It wasn't about you. It was her failure she could not see past. Your face was her failure. She could never see you because she would have to sit with it, and sit with how she fucked up. She couldn't bear it.

It’s why she could not stop drinking.

Everyone can say I killed Mom with my letter. Perhaps I did. She sat in therapy with me years before and said I was her one hope. I was the only one Dad had not damaged. I was okay. I was her dream of success. She hated that I was a lesbian because it wasn't the image of the white picket fence-husband-suburbia-good job-children vision. She grew to love Jeanine and I believe she forgave me that one fault- for the most part. I gave her three grandchildren. When I told her I was broken, too? It was the final insult. The last line to be crossed.

Her hope was gone.

She couldn't see you. She couldn't listen to you. She couldn't share with you. It hurt her too much. It was all about her, Cathy. It always was. Her failure, her pain, her loss.

I'm sorry she hurt you so much. She was only kind to me because I was her redemption. It was about her success.

I love you. You are good enough for me. We can hold each other. We can hold our truth.

We will learn how to live with it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Fissures






Friday, January 05, 2007

Honesty and Transparency




A friend- the same friend who warned me to not just feel, yell and act- told me to read Plan B by Annie Lamott.

There is a passage about her mother's ashes that made me feel okay with my struggle to love my mother, to hate my mother, to put her memory in the right place.

Left with the fury of loss, she put her mother's ashes in the closet.

"So I left her in the closet for two years to stew in her own ashes, and I refused to be nice to her, and didn't forgive her for being a terrifed, furious, clinging, sucking maw of need and arrogance. I suppose that sounds harsh. I assumed Jesus wanted me to forgive her, but I also know he loves honestly and transparency. I don't think he was rolling his eyes impatiently at me while she was in the closet. I don't think much surprises him: this is how we make important changes- barely, poorly, slowly. And still, he raises his fist in triumph."

Annie Lamott


So to all those people who want me to remember nice things and nice things only- I have yet to begin this grieving process. I feel the pressure to forgive before I am ready to forgive. I loved my mother and she loved me. But like a garden long overgrown, there is a lot of weeding to do before I find the beauty.

Don't push me.

A Wary Peace

For the first time in about a million years, I felt like throwing an impromptu party tonight. Nothing fancy, nothing huge, just a few friends over. And their kids.

Oh, yeah, and tomorrow night, too.

Finally, things are feeling normal.

I’m certain it has a lot to do with the fact that Jeanine has worked only a few hours in the last week. Having her here at dinner time, homework time, and bedtime is fabulous. Ben shrieked on Tuesday when he came home and she was here. MOM! Jake ran over and hugged her. Their moods stayed light even as the sun went down and the witching hour approached.

Her presence is more than a treat for the whole family. She is part of what makes this big configuration of moms and dads and kids work. An essential part. In my anger, I believe her absence makes her a ghost. A faint memory. But it’s not true. Her absence is a hole. A loss of part of the machine – it simply can’t function without her.

I am also certain my change in the way I respond to her has created a shift that is not simply about vacation. Every time I’ve felt like blurting out, yelling, I’ve stopped. Am I backed into a corner? I have spent so much of my life in the corner with my hands up ready to fight. It is more than a reflex. And it does not serve me well. I am taking the moment to think about it. Is this worth a fight? How can I say this in a less aggressive way? How can I separate out old rage from the current moment?

The combination has left us in a familiar but long, lost place. Where we both feel taken care of enough, loved enough, to want to share our home, each other, with the rest of the world.

It is a shift we are both wary of. I looked at her last night and asked when was she going to blast me again with her anger. You cracked the foundation of our marriage, she said to me.

I did, I said.

The foundation was not as sound as it appeared from the outside. It was built with fear of abandonment, for both of us. I only cracked the façade.

I am still angry, she said. But I also feel taken care of. When are you going to stop taking care of me?

I don’t plan on it. In fact, my effort to respond differently is a goal for me throughout my life. To realize why I feel so voiceless. And to recognize the real power I do have. My words, my feelings, do matter. I have tremendous impact on those around me. In feeling so powerless, I billow out too much steam. I burn those around me who are there because they love me. They love me, not without problems and conflict but they are not holding me to the floor.

I want to find. Not just feel, yell and act, as a friend described to me today. I want to find what I have lost. Follow the cracks left through to their finest end point. Until I do, I will continue to find myself against walls, in corners and responding from the fissures rather than my best self.

Tonight? I’m going to sit with some friends. Talk about school administrators, kids educations and a trip to the slums outside Mexico City a friend took over the break- research for a book she’s writing. Ten kids will be running around. Sorry… ten boys will be running around. One friend said she didn’t think her daughters would want to come to hang with pack of boys. I don’t blame them.

May the wary peace continue until it becomes a new foundation from which to build.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fine Lines



Okay, I’m finding it hard to write anything today. I’ve been playing with my new camera lens all afternoon. Run, take a picture of the cat’s eyeball, come back and see. Run, take a picture of the flowers, come back and see.

I’m going to be a nutcase when Walter gets me in the dark room and I have to wait more than thirty seconds to see what is developing.

A friend said this is a good lens for me, as it will let me crawl up inside my subject. To me, it gives me teeny tiny spaces to focus on during a time when so much is overwhelming.

Either way, I’m completely in love with my new lens.

Tonight, Jeanine and I start therapy again. Our trip was a great break from the daily reality. Now we are back.

I want it to work. Without having to give myself away.

It’s a fine line.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Year Resolutions

To avoid fighting with Jeanine when it’s not necessary. I am not always right, I don’t have to be always right, and I need to be able to walk away more often. Jeanine is raw and angry, too. Our marriage needs to be a place of safety and comfort rather than another battlefront.

Make a difference in other people’s lives. I have needed so much in the last year. Never before have I leaned on my friends as much and as hard. Relationships need to ebb and flow. It is my turn to flow, to give, to be present.

Spend special time with each of my boys. Take Jake fishing. Take Zachary up to Ogunquit to paint the garage together. Make appointments for Ben and I to go to the spa for a day.

Let go. There are some things in my life I cannot change. If I have to climb onto a high mountain top and chain myself there until I get it, that’s what I’ll do. I will stop trying to make impossible people understand me. I will stop looking for approval from people who will never approve of me.

And I’m going hold tight. My family, my friends, all the love in my life. Enough with the old tapes, over and over, telling me how worthless I am. How selfish I am. Enough looking to the wrong people for love. See above resolution. I’m not giving myself away anymore. I have to stop looking outside for acceptance.

Close wounds. I am going to work as hard as I can to accept what happened to me. Understand the way it makes me move through the world today. And move forward holding all of who I am with pride.

Embrace all the wonderful things my mother left me. A friend told me today, after describing our trip to San Francisco- a gift from me to my whole family- I was just like my mother. My mother would give the most perfect gift at the most perfect time, freely and with great joy. I did, too. I know she taught me how.

Overall, I am going to push myself to be a better person. A better mother. A better friend. A better wife.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

And So It Begins...

My kids are back in school today. I loved every minute with them this vacation – not something I always say after a long break from school- even so, it was time to get back to work.

I have worked my way through about 8 loads of laundry so far. Only about five more to go. And I have the big, giant washing machine.

The tree is down, thanks kitty, and everything has been put away till next year.

I’m cooking stir-fry pork with Udon noodles tonight for dinner. I promised myself to eat less beef this year. Save it for special occasions, like In-N-Out burgers. Or New York Strips with truffle oil and shaved Parmesan cheese, on a bed of endive and arugula. I love to say the word arugula far more than I like eating it. I have to face the facts- I have high cholesterol and I have to take care of it, not sometimes but always.

I have to take my car into the shop because there is a loud warbling noise from the driver side tire. It will be a hassle, as taking cars into the shop always is, ultimately one trip of the journey is with all three boys stuck in the back during rush hour traffic, tired from a day of school and yelling at each other. I never seem to be able to schedule it to avoid that particular part of the car to the shop routine.

The furnace needs cleaning. I have to call about having a broken window fixed. I don’t know how it happened! Claimed all three boys when a giant stick was found lodged in it. At least they all stuck together.

Your average suburban housewife kind of day.

No bedrock of society crumbling. Only the mortar on my brick front steps seems to be giving away.

And yet today, we are one step closer to letting the majority in this state decide whether or not I, as a minority, am allowed the same basic rights. Whether I get to be treated with all the same respect and dignity as everyone else in this country. The legislature voted today to bring us one step closer to a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Of course, Romney won’t come by and rip the ring off my finger- although it would make a great presidential run photo op- because I have already been married. I get to keep the right. Instead, there will be a special few who will get to keep the right to stay married.

I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we will have to go through a year of bitter campaigning that will leave this state a battlefield the likes of Antietum. Millions of dollars will be spent- while my own public school can’t afford the recorder program for the whopping cost of 125K a year- to promote misunderstanding, hate and bigotry. Conservatives and Progressives alike, from all over the country will come to fight this battle.

My children will get to learn about hate. About discrimination because of they have two moms they will not have the same safety nets as their peers with heterosexual parents. Because they have two moms, they will have to listen to descriptions in television ads about deviance, pedophilia, bestiality and all the other fabricated images the right wing “Christian”- and I use that term loosely- conservatives come up with to frighten people into thinking their world is at stake.

Not something Jesus would be too thrilled to see being done in his name, in my humble opinion.

Today, the fight begins. Instead of moving forward with what has been three years without a single plague of locusts, we will step back again to fight for the right to be treated like anyone else.

First, though, I have to go fold some laundry. Preheat the oven. Pick up my kids at school. You know, all the stuff that leads to the end of civilization as we know it.

Truth be told? There will be nothing civil about this debate.

Monday, January 01, 2007

And the Tree Came Tumbling Down...

I was writing on the plane, deep, thoughtful statements about resolutions for the New Year. Ways I wanted to start fresh, begin again, move forward.

I was going to finish it when I got home tonight.

Sometimes, the best made plans... ah, you know the quote.

Seems our kitty, Sophia the wonder cat, realized we had instituted a new family policy in San Francisco. Not only do you get fined a dollar for swear words, you get fined a dollar for being a "Negative Nancy."

Yup. I think the new rule is specifically aimed at Walter and me- mainly because we say it like it is but WHATEVER.

No, I mean, I think it's a fabulous new family policy aimed at supporting the "Positive Polly" in all of us.

So, the cat wasn't naughty, she was just trying to help. She wasn't angry we were gone for so long, she was simply pitching in the best way she knew how. I do always insist the tree comes down on New Years Day. Sophia made it happen for me.

And now, I have to go throw in another load of laundry. As I open the single suitcase Jeanine packed all of the dirty socks and underwear into, I'll hold my breath a moment and remember the sweet San Francisco air.

No "Negative Nancy" dollars for me.

Believe me, my potty mouth is going to make me poor enough.