Archive for the ‘motherhood’ Category

Christmas-Cards-05I remember my mother writing out her Christmas cards each year; she was so organized. Her address list was neatly handwritten on a legal pad, updated each year to ensure the addressees received her holiday greeting. Everyone on her list received a short personal note jotted out on Five and Dime Store bought stationery which was then smartly folded and inserted in a tasteful card that was hand addressed and posted with an official Christmas stamp. Also included in was the latest school picture of me in wallet size – my name, age, grade and the current year printed on the back.

My mother also received many such pictures in Christmas cards, some of children I recognized, but many I did not. For instance, my mother had a cousin Stanley who lived in Texas and as far as I could tell Stanley and his wife had about 15 kids. I think I met part of clan once when Stanley put the younger ones and the missus in a RV and drove to Pennsylvania, but if I recall correctly (and I’m not sure I do) by then even the younger ones were much older than me.

Because the Christmas card was such a solid, time-honored institution to my mother, never to be questioned or taken lightly, she continued to sign my name to her cards for a couple of years after I had moved out of the house. She would not have such an impertinent daughter who cared not one whit for a tradition that, in my mind, seemed to only favor the post office and card companies. When I married she began passing along addresses of people to whom I was obliged to send Christmas cards. I bristled at the rigorous act of sending so card to so many – aunts, great aunts, cousins, second cousins and lifelong friends of my mother. Also I was horribly lazy and disorganized and after a few moves, the final one being to San Francisco, I lost many of the addresses. I also patently refused to address the cards properly. It seemed too patriarchal to include only the husband’s first name, so instead I included everyone’s first name and left off the titles that denoted matrimony.

Once in San Francisco I realized that I did not have to send out traditional Christmas cards at all. The card itself could be a hint at my feelings towards this ridiculous tradition. Haight Street, my neighborhood, was full of kitschy shops that stocked cards that ranged from traditional to downright raunchy. I never had the gall to offend my relatives, who without reservation celebrated Christmas as a Christian holiday, but I did seek out and cards that were completely non-committal to the spirit in which the card was sent. Also I had acquired some Jewish and Pagan friends so it just made sense to be as inclusive as possible with my season’s greetings.

When my first son was born it became clear that a portion of my Christmas card list wanted photos. I confess to being pretty inconsistent with sending out photos through the years. Usually I would grossly misjudge the number of people who should be receiving photos and order what I thought was a reasonable amount. Plus I’m pretty cheap when it comes to buying anything other than musical equipment, and photos cost money.

My mother died on December 17, 2007, just four months after my second son was born. She never had a chance to reprimand me for not sending a photo of my new son to Mrs. So-and-So. She never had a chance to tell me Aunt So-and-So thought her second grandson was the most adorable baby ever. She spent her last holiday season in hospice in a nursing home and I don’t recall many Christmas cards my mother would have loved to see, reaching her. I don’t doubt that the idea of getting her cards out was on her mind when she had a lucid moment.

This year. This year I got it together. I thought about who would get school photos in their Christmas cards and I ordered generously. Then I sat down with my Christmas list spreadsheet, not updated since 2012 and began to edit. I have but one aunt left. One of my favorite aunt’s passed away just a month ago. I hadn’t been in touch with her in the past few years other than our yearly Christmas card exchange, although I had been meaning to call or write. . . My mother’s lifelong friend, who I had continued to correspond with out of a sense of a shared connection with my mother, has been moved to a nursing home. The great aunts all long gone, the addresses of the second cousins long lost, but I do wonder where they are and what has become of them. I have enough pictures of my kids,  but there are fewer people to receive the photos. And when it comes to addressing the cards I find myself reverting back to the traditional Mr. & Mrs. Still Married Couple, because when I get to the friends on my list who are separated or divorced or never took their husband’s name in the first place, I’m a little stymied. Did she go back to her maiden name? Did the children keep their father’s last name? Frankly I’m back to writing just the first names on the envelope. If I have the extended zip code I know it will get there.

When I moved my mother out of her house for good I came across a nightstand that appeared to have every greeting card she had ever received crammed in its drawers. Clearly those cards meant something to her. They were proof of a connection, somewhere someone cared. It was a brief, brightly colored nod and wave across distance and time that said “We share history. I know you and remember you even if we don’t see each other very often. I want you to know I still think of you and I want you to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. (Because who knows how many years any of us have left.)”

Finally I get it, mom.

Mother

Posted: November 20, 2014 in Dark Phase, Dreams, motherhood
Tags: , , , ,

mom-and-meMother

Mad woman rattling pots and pans in the kitchen at midnight

Hanging wash in the basement at 3 AM

Conversing loudly with the dead

An anxious litany

“You know what they’ll do? Do you know what they’ll do? They’ll come take the house.”

With Daddy gone

The only thing left to lose

“Don’t run the water like that”

“Close the door”

“Don’t you touch the thermostat”

“Do you know what they’ll do if I can’t pay the bills? Do you know what they’ll do?”

“They’ll come take the house.”

That fear

That fear seeped out of the foundation like rain water

Bubbled up from the basement drain with the raw sewage

Forced you to put a lock on the cellar door

But the lock never contained it

That fear sat with me at the kitchen table

Eating boiled meats, mashed potatoes and canned peas

While you stood with your back to us

Eating over the sink

That fear hid in the corner of the living room

Behind Daddy’s empty chair

When we stayed up late watching horror movies

“Spooky,” you said. “Time for bed”

And that fear trailed me all the way down the hall

Lurked, creaking the floor boards just beyond the night light’s glow

While you muttered obscenities in the bathroom.

I left as soon as I could.

You remained vigilant.

I came home years later

To find you asleep in your chair

Amidst bags of dirty dishes

And stacks of magazine

“She needs better care,” the doctor said.

And we shuffled you on

Your belongings falling away

Your life made smaller and smaller

To accommodate each new convalescing room.

 

I sold the house.

 

To pay your way

To keep you with me

Just a little while longer.

 

In my dreams

We are together in the house.

You, me and that fear

“I can’t stay” you tell me

“It’s not safe.”

The locks gone from the doors

The furniture sits in the yard

They have come

To take the house

Even then I cannot contain

The guilt, the shame and

The small victory

That “they”

Would be me

After all.

ShyThis is my first memory of it: I am five years old, shopping with my mother at Kmart. We run into a friend of my mother’s. The friend says hello to me and asks me how I am. I stare up at this unfamiliar adult; I don’t know what to say. I’m not sure how I am. The person’s fixed smile and expectant gaze makes me uncomfortable but I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to say anything about it. My silence goes on for too long. Then my mother says in an apologetic tone, “She’s shy.” And that’s when I know how I am – I’m shy. My mother will say this many more times throughout my life with her. Eventually the apologetic tone will change into one of annoyance and embarrassment as I remain shy well into my teens.

When I reach my 20’s I begin to recognize that certain goals I have set for myself can only be achieved by meeting and talking to people. I feel this most sharply when attending classes at the Film Arts Foundation. I want to make movies in a serious way, but as I sit through a seminar on screenwriting or a workshop on Super-8 cameras, I take notice during the breaks that people are talking to each other. At first I tell myself these people must all know each other from previous classes, but as I eavesdrop in on conversations I realize that no, they are meeting right there before my very eyes. Not only that, but they are talking about their film projects, they are talking about working with each other, they are networking. But I am shy, which based on the tone and context my mother and teachers used when discussing my introverted nature, is a bad thing. If only I had stopped being shy when my mom pointed it out to me, when teachers coerced me to speak up in class, when my college advisor told me I was too quiet and that made me boring. But instead I just felt embarrassed and ashamed and then defiant. Screw you, world, I had thought on those occasions, you think I’m quiet now? Just you wait, I will never speak again.

Of course I did speak again, but it wasn’t until my 20’s that I started trying to figure out ways to become less shy. There were many, many well-meaning people along the way who would tell me I just had to get out of my comfort zone and do it; they had been very shy but now they had become comfortable talking to everyone. A therapist recommended Toastmasters, I perused the Learning Annex catalog, a bastion of self-help and self-improvement seminars, and considered taking “How to Make Small Talk” and “Become a Master Conversationalist” but I doubted a 3 hour lecture would take me from being unable to make eye contact to being the life of the party (or film-making class). Finally I started consciously running a reminder script in my head, “Make eye contact. Say hi.” Surprisingly, when I remembered to do it and made the effort, it actually worked! Soon I found myself with another problem: making eye contact and saying hello gave many people the impression that I wanted to talk to them.

To be fair, I did want to talk to them, but only about the things I wanted to talk about and I quickly observed there was an anticipated flow of conversation with someone you had just met. Apparently there had to be a neutral starting point, small talk involving trivial observations about the weather or the class we were taking. Following this was a low-key getting to know each other Q & A: who are you, where are you from, etc. etc. If you could make it past all these hurdles then you might be able to gracefully bring up the thing you wanted to say in the first place – “Will you do the special effects make up for my film?”; “Can I be your camera assistant?” If I didn’t stall out during the small talk portion, I usually hit the “getting to know you” questions too hard and the other person would bail out, most likely feeling as if he was being grilled by the cops rather than enjoying a casual chat.

Thank the universe for the extreme extroverts of the world who are not bothered or unnerved by a mostly silent conversation partner. It’s not surprising that many of the people who came in and out of my life in my 20’s and early 30’s were flamboyant, outspoken, and enjoyed being the center of attention. It was a mutually beneficial relationship for the most part, although I confess to intentionally using their boisterous personality for my own purposes, especially when it came to film making and putting people in front of my camera.

When my first son came along I decided it was time to really grow up and quit being shy. I wanted him to have a good role model for social interactions.  While I never thought to do this for myself, I was willing to do almost anything for him (later I would completely rid myself of my fear of spiders on his behalf, but despite best efforts, my fear of heights remains intact). I joined a mother’s club and playgroups, volunteered at school events, and hosted birthday parties. I tried very hard to act like the other mothers, to fit in, in hopes that my son would learn to fit in as well. It didn’t work out.

Despite putting myself into all those social situations, I was still shy, or I suppose socially anxious as it’s called now. I did make a few good friends, other moms who, like me,  did not easily fit in at mom-centric events like PTO meetings and Pampered Chef parties.  There was also another problem; by age 2, my  son was actively avoiding his peers. Things did not improve in preschool and by age five, at the behest of his kindergarten teacher, we had him evaluated by a child development specialist. Asperger’s Syndrome was the diagnosis. Considered a high functioning form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome can make social interaction very difficult: “The social communication deficits in highly functioning persons with Asperger syndrome include lack of the normal back and forth conversation; lack of typical eye contact, body language, and facial expression; and trouble maintaining relationships.”  Huh. How about that?

My son has just started high school and I don’t think any of his classmates or teachers would classify him as shy.  He’s not the most talkative kid around, but when he has something to say, he says it without hesitation.  I also have a second son who is a natural extrovert.  He makes friends every where and talks to everyone.  At seven he is far more socially savvy than I have ever been.

As for me, I recently made a conscious decision to no longer work towards becoming the extrovert I had long believed existed inside me if only I put myself out there and really tried. I have tried, and with age I’ve gotten better at successfully negotiating social situations, but I feel it’s time to honor the introvert that I am. It feels wonderfully rebellious to no longer beat myself up over my given nature. Obviously I do need to function and interact with society at large, but if I fail to have a conversation with other parents on the school yard at pick up time I’m going to be okay with that. I’m good at smiling and nodding, so when the chatty cashier at the grocery store begins to monologue about something or other, I’m not going to shut him down, instead I’m going to appreciate what he has to say and also that I’m good at giving others room to speak. I very much enjoy listening. Also, I can be talkative when with the right person, so if I’ve ever talked your ear off, know that in my book we’ve made an honest connection.

Finally to all the people who, for whatever reason, love to put introverts on the spot by pointing out how quiet they are I have to say – Stop it! Seriously, cut that out. It’s not helpful and you look like a jerk. I know it’s hard to see in the moment, but I’m not being quiet because I dislike you; I don’t dislike you unless you say something like, “Wow, you just never stop talking . . . ha ha ha.” At which point my newly rebellious introvert self will reply, “Well, you know how the saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say . . .”

Then again, perhaps I will defiantly say nothing at all.

I have never been good at counting my blessings; I’m far too negative for that. Those chipper, upbeat people on my Facebook feed (how did I even get these friends?) are constantly posting positive, life-affirming sayings, and it takes a great deal of will power on my part to not refute each and every one as oversimplifying, sugar coating or self-aggrandizing the true nature of our existence. Luckily I was taught not to say anything if I have nothing nice to say and so I remain, to most people, very quiet.

However, I sometimes feel the need to take a life inventory of sorts, just to remind myself how none of this makes any sense, but here I am and no matter what, it could always be worse.

Here then, in my most positively pessimistic perspective, is my list of miseries and how it could be worse:

1.) I make music that absolutely no one wants to hear. It’s my passion, my heart and soul, but apparently my heart and soul is lacking, boring, potentially dated and out of tune (do not tell me it’s because I’m a downer , not while The Cure and Morrissey are still touring).

It could be worse. I could be loaded with talent and still just as obscure and nowhere, like many of my truly gifted friends.

2.) My house is an absolute pig-sty having just spent the last week and a half enjoying a visit from a friend and her children and making little effort to contain the chaos.

It could be worse. I could have high expectations of my housekeeping abilities and spend the next week stressed out while working towards a presentable home. Instead I will take this opportunity to continue to enjoy the summer and host many more social engagements, knowing I won’t have to clean up much afterwards to maintain status quo. All the while I will not worry that my friends are secretly judging my messy home and deciding my best efforts are not good enough; I made no effort. Perfect!

There is the added bonus of boosting my friends’ confidence in their own housekeeping standards. Once they leave my place they will have a bright new perspective on how nice their homes truly are. I am a good friend!

3.) I’m turning 46 in a few weeks. How did that even happen? I was 27 just a minute ago and now here I am starting the 4 year countdown to 50. What have I even done with my life? Do I really need to go any further with the physical aging process? Because I know how it ends and I don’t like it. And . . .and . . .reading glasses!

 It could be worse. I could still be living with the youthful optimism that it will all work out without any effort on my part. That was a big lesson I learned only in the past 6 or 7 years: if there is such a thing as fate, you have to get her number and harass her regularly to get her to work for you. Or you can just do the work yourself (easier).

 Also gone is the underlying anxiety of where my life might take me because I finally know:  it’s taken me right here, a messy home with a couple of kids who, I hope, are enjoying summer break with their mom, a woman who isn’t stressing over things that don’t matter that much.

 Without being too optimistic, I’d like to say I am okay with where I am right now (although being at Comic Con this weekend would be good too).  There’s still some road ahead with potential twists and turns, but I think I’m better at navigating it than I was in my youth. Or not.

I certainly don’t see myself embracing the bright side of things anytime soon, so I’ll stick with counting my miseries and my life long philosophy. . .Could have been worse

March-2014-Shows

He did not mean for it to happen
He was just doing what kids do

Capture and release
Wanting to hold something beautiful

But when he  uncupped his hands
A delicate pair of wings  stuck to his palm
A newly flightless creature crawled across his knuckles

Put it down, I said, before you hurt it more

There, he said, as he flicked it off his hand,
Now it has a new life

We watched it crawl along the ground

Yes, I replied
Remembering
It can happen that fast

word pressButterfly

Letting Go

Posted: September 6, 2013 in Dark Phase, images, motherhood
Tags: , ,

I am teaching my children time travel.  It works like this:

Wherever you are right now – pay attention.  Close your eyes.   Notice how your feet feel on the floor; move them around a little to get the full texture.  Listen to the sound your feet are making as they move.  What other parts of your body are touching your surroundings?  Move ever so slightly to take in the sensation.

Listen. What do you hear?  The whoosh of cars going by?  Dishes clinked together while being washed?  Someone typing on a computer?  Music playing on the stereo?

Now take a deep breath.  The air doesn’t just carry the scent of your surroundings; it has a quality to it. It might be heavy with humidity, or thin and cold. But also pay attention to the smell.  Scents are evocative; they can be powerful triggers of memory.

Finally look around and look closely.  See the whole area from the large objects to one or two tiny details you may have never noticed.  And really look at those details.  If you look long enough it will be like seeing something for the first time because perhaps it is.

When you’ve captured your surroundings like this, in a mindful way, tell yourself you’re saving this for later.  I can’t guarantee that everything you save will still be there, but you will find some of it again years from now.  And when you find it, for a second you will be back in that space.   And maybe, depending on how much time has elapsed between the initial imprint and the playback, that place won’t really exist anywhere but in your memory.  And it will feel like time travel.

I tell this to my children but I’m not sure they fully understand.  When you’re a child it can feel like your world is a rock, solid and unmovable.  But as an adult you come to realize how quickly things can change.  Something that seemed certain on one day is already gone the next  and then you need to learn to let go of it.  But if you weren’t really paying attention in the first place  you can get all messed up.  You start making substitutions for what it is you thought you had.  You imagine it bigger or smaller or more or less important than it actually was.  You start having feelings for it that you didn’t have at the time.

And so it’s good to take a moment, wherever you are, to really look around to see what is it you have right now.  Later, when it’s gone, you can visit with it as it really was, or at least as close to what you perceived it to be,  and you can be there again just for a moment before you let it go.

memory board