Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Moms in Transition

I am back. I have still been writing but mostly small pieces, primarily about Motherhood and Family. I am starting to write about a whole new topic that will demand another blog, but in the meantime, I would like to start sharing the pieces I have written over the last few years and I am sure I will have more insights into the thrilling process of growing a human from scratch. Here is one of my more recent pieces.

I am standing in line at my favorite ice cream shop, it’s hot outside. This used to be a place I’d take my son on a special occasion and it still is from time to time, but today I’m alone, I’ve walked too many dogs, I’m a dog-walker, and I need to cool down. Scanning the counter people tossing scoops and smashing ingredients, I look in front of me to see a baby girl sitting on her mama’s hip. She is all chunk with michelin man legs, five creases deep and shiny copper curls. I can almost smell the sweet and sour of spilled milk in those tiny little crevices. I want to reach out and squeeze her chubby legs, smiling at her mom. A moment later, before I can catch the words coming out of my mouth, I tell her how I used to carry my own son on my hip, the exact same way she’s holding hers. But, she isn’t interested, smiling blankly and looking away, not engaging.  My son, Jake, is 13 now, almost 14. I can still get hugs, snuggles and a sneaky hand-hold here and there but the odds of him coming with me everywhere, everyday, every moment of my life, is not happening. Here is this new mom, she is in the middle of it, sleep deprivation and trying to make all the right decisions.  Her child less often makes her mad and more simply exhausts her.  They are helpless at that age newborn to five, mother and child.  This is the time when a new mom is hashing out all the guidelines for the type of mother she will be.  She has read the innumerable books on how to do everything but it’s go time now, this is not a rehearsal. Circumcisions, vaccinations, breastfeeding and naps, discipline, religion, daycare, work or stay at home, and which brand is best? Meanwhile everyone is offering their opinions and personal experiences! This woman just wants to watch her little girl enjoy a spoonful of ice cream and maybe sit for a bit and zone out.  

As my son and I grow older, I see these new parents out and about, their kids melting down at a restaurant or running through the aisles of a grocery store. My son never comes with me to the store anymore so often I am alone, smiling as the parents are apologetic or simply annoyed. I have this deep desire to raise my mama freak flag and say, “I’m one of you, you are not alone, and it gets better. You’ll miss these days, smile, laugh and rush to scoop that baby into your arms, embrace the moment”. Those are the words I’m saying when I smile, in my head.

In the early days of Jake, I didn’t have many friends who had kids. It was just Jake and I, my husband worked as a chef and was gone most of the day. I was a kitchen-widow. I defended my decisions on co-sleeping, on-demand breastfeeding and letting Jake take his time with each step whether it was walking, talking or potty-training.  I laughed when he kept saying “duck”, louder and louder at a restaurant, only it wasn’t Duck. He couldn’t say D’s so he said it with an F, proudly. Those years, I have never known such exhaustion, joy and heartache. 

Kindergarten is when I found my people, my community, my parental demographic. A few parents had older children, those I kept close, their invaluable knowledge meant to be weighed and willingly ignored if necessary.  Most had smaller children too, a few years younger than my own son.  This was a source of heartbreak for me, as I had lost Sophia to stillbirth when Jake was three and it was difficult to not imagine her own spirit in each little girl, skipping along behind the boys, tugging at the moms to leave soon.  

The after-school pickups were our savored moments of the day, huddled together at the playground, conversation was mostly about who we were, desperate for socializing with women of our own age, living the same life but different.  We would bull-shit about wine, past lovers, where and how we grew up, our awful parents and our amazing parents and what we did for money. We bitched about our husbands or shared good stories, encouraged each other to try new jobs, workouts, diets or shoes. Slowly friendships developed. We sorted out… the moms who worked “real jobs” while others free-lanced.  Some owned businesses, while others went to school.  We all parented differently and the same. 

Now days we fret about our children and the decisions together, in intimate facebook groups or IM’s, all with the same intensity of a new mom. Will letting him drop band mean he won’t have a social group to keep him out of trouble, or will forcing him to stay in make him hate me and lead to smoking weed? Do I care, should I care? Will he lose focus if he drops out of the art strand? Is deciding to be a creative writer going to lead to a life of alcoholism? Another mom worries about her son and his girlfriend, how far have they gone. One boy has low grades, he isn’t trying hard enough, the other has high grades but he is stressed. As we see the final stretch span out before us, each decision makes the parental tight-rope ever more precarious. Our children come home to us now, no more after-school gatherings, but we have found other ways to communicate.  We know they still love us, need us, but they are, in their slow and inevitable way, growing their wings which will be necessary for them to fly away. These wings are very difficult things for them to grow and all that effort comes with a price.  Our sweet little michelin man babies are now long and lean, grumpy and sullen, lazy, depressed, and even detached. They sleep all day, eat all our food, disrespect us and reach out and hug us. They seek us out late in the evening for a quick snuggle and a quiet talk. Making decisions as a parent is all so confusing and worrisome because we know that all that pain, strife, aggravation and effort comes with an inevitable ending, adulthood. They will leave and from what I have heard, it’s really hard, no matter how mean they can be.

Back at the ice cream shop I release the compulsion to engage with that young, fresh mom with all those years ahead of her. I remind myself to smile and know, these new moms will seek us out when they are ready.  When they have gotten comfortable in their mom identity. When they have cast their suit of armor and made an imprint that will stick.  My mind turns, 180 degrees and searches out a mother of an adult child, 22, 26, 30 years old.  This woman patiently nods and understandingly laughs with those well-earned creases around her eyes that say she has survived the pain.  Does she miss them, yes?  Will I survive, yes and I will be lonely and I will be proud and he will come back around and it will be fun because we will be adults and friends. Relax and enjoy the moment.  These upcoming high school years, I will pace myself. I learn to smile inwardly when I see that young mom with the chubby-cheeked toddler screaming because she wants a piece of candy or another toy.  I have been there and I didn’t want to chat either.  I enjoy my quiet times, refilling my cup of tolerance for the patience it will take to persevere through another evening of difficult algebra homework of which I cannot help, 7am sectionals for band, and not knowing most of the people he interacts with at school.  I enjoy the chatter and hugs that I do still get from him, and I order him a cup of ice cream, dutch chocolate, his favorite and bring it home, slipping it into the freezer, because he’s still asleep, it’s 2pm and he will be hungry when he wakes up.   

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Rocking Chair

Humans are preoccupied with inanimate objects. Our homes are filled with special shirts from years past, books from our childhood, stuffed bears tucked away in tubs, and art pieces from a family home not quite in sync with our own personal taste, but important somehow.  These objects, knick-knacks and such make up our identity, they bring us comfort, they remind us of our past and we often attach a personality to them whether it’s the sweet stuffed kitty we got at Terra Toys or a coffee mug from a favorite vacation spot.  Just the other day I relinquished a favored mop to Goodwill. My husband whimpered a little, knowing it was a hard decision for me.  I love my housecleaning tools and I’m particularly attached to those from my dream team of functionality.  We have favorite possessions that bring us luck.  I always wear my Grandmother Oma’s bracelet when I go out for the evening in hopes that it will call her spirit to watch over me and keep me out of harm’s way. It has worked 49 years.  My husband, Joel, will never toss his green hoodie, ratty and old now. It reminds us both of a time when things were simple, less responsibilities, more drugs, sex, rock and roll and bike rides.

My son, Jake, born into this world with multitudes of objects, enough to fill a room, but arriving with nothing but simple needs and a driving force to get at mama’s milk, has chosen a very large piece of furniture as his most special object. It all started in the early morning hours of the day he was born, my baby daddy, Joel, had settled into an exceptionally comfortable glider rocking chair in our hospital room and realized that it was a definite must for our parenting journey.  His parents, eager to give us a gift after the birth of their grandson, found one just like it and had it waiting for us at home.

Jake’s life started in that rocker. I would hold him close, on-demand breast-feeding, watching tv, reading or staring out the window at the snow covered ground. Ten months later, we packed that rocker into a moving truck and took it with us to Vail.  Lonely nights as a chef’s wife were spent rocking Jake to sleep grateful for his company, his fingers clasping mine, nuzzling close. Later, when I found a job as a restaurant manager, we would alternate working nights.  I would come home to Jake and Joel settled into the rocker with beer and milk bottle in hands.  That rocker helped us through two severe cases of bronchitis, hospital stays and an oxygen tank attached to Jake for weeks at a time. The Vail Valley is a tough ride for a Texas baby.

Three years later, we once again loaded it up for the inevitable move back to Austin.  Jake was getting bigger but I could still pick him up, legs wrapped around me, and rock him through a bad dream, a scratched knee or a bruised ego.

Finally, we settled into our forever home and the trusted rocker, now scuffed and rickety, pillow frayed and stained, made it’s way front and center in the living room.  By now it was quite the eye-sore but still comfy, kids loved rocking and twirling in it. I had resorted to tossing a series of sunny sheets and red velvet fabrics over it, cursing my inability to upholster.  We had reached the point where quarterly conversations popped up about whether to keep it.  Each time we asked Jake’s opinion, was it time to let it go? Jake’s response was always  “no, I like having it around, it makes me feel safe and comfy.”  It was nice, I did like sitting in it and rocking, it brought back memories. But, our living room needed space.

We came up with a compromise.  We bought another rocker and moved it with the old one to the porch. We tossed the old cushions and found a fun splashy outdoor one. In essence, breathing new life into the rocker and giving it a buddy.  A perfect arrangement for relaxation on the back porch, coffee in the mornings watching the dog’s run and play, and evenings rocking around the chiminea.

Last year we obtained a fourth dog, a puppy, much to my husband’s dismay but that’s another story.  As I opened the patio door, the pup took two steps and leapt into the rocker. It was his safe place in the dark and he became stealth at making the leap, never touching the ground.  He has, over time, tarnished the colorful cushions with his muddy paws and gnawed at the armrests. The other dogs have found it to be a good place to sit and watch the squirrels.  We bought yet another rocker for the porch so it’s a trio. For now, the original rocker still works, a little more creaky, still twirls, a little more stiffly and still creates and spills out memories.  A splash of paint could breath new life into it and maybe a new cushion. It’s still here, it’s not going anywhere, this rocker has life and purpose and a personality.  It’s home.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For Denise, a tribute to my Grandmother!

Oldie but a goodie...........................

I'm lying here with my baby on Mike and Denise's bed.  My boy has been struggling, fighting sleep for the past hour at his godparent's home.  As soon as his head hits the pillow he starts nudging towards me, fingers tugging and pushing, pawing me like a kitten taken from his mama too soon, lips anxiously latching onto my breast.  This is a bad habit I know I need to break, like most vices, you know it's no good, but it feels so nice.  His eyes begin to roll and flutter, humming and moaning with the soft pull of sleep.  The smell of fresh baked bread drifts from the kitchen coupled with the thrills of Denise's laughter as she assists my husband cooking mussels and clams.  Mike's setting the musical tone of the evening, Italian soundtrack, while the soft clatter of porcelain and silver signal dinner is nearly ready.  I snuggle closer to Jake, enjoying Denise's indulgence in bedding, corduroy comforter with 100% Egyptian cotton sheets, the feather mattress enveloping.  The window shares its view of the cedar elm trees dancing.  Trees amaze me.  Grand, lovely trees filled with the sincerity of a history that cannot be altered by the interpretations of time.  They survive amongst us for hundreds of years, no matter what the size of the town, the trees continue to thrive.  Maybe not as many as before, but there are plenty enough for me.  They are like mothers . . . grounded, swaying, strong, never leaving, always growing and renewing with the seasons of life.  I think of my grandma while I watch one in particular.  This tree is powerful and swaying largely with the wind, way high up in the air, its branches fan the sky brushing the clouds along their way.  My grandma has just passed through this world, this life, and I'm wondering where she has gone.  I'm wondering how long it takes to get there and who's there with her.  I feel her presence at this moment so real, just there in the highest branches of that giant old elm.  She's so strong now that she can see me through the tiny window of this comfy room with the rough red walls.  She can see me lying with my son, giving him my breast and my love.  I know she is smiling at me, happy I have finally found a purpose, a real reason to quit blowing off life.  I think about her when I see that old elm because it reminds me of my grandparent’s home.  The home they had when I was born, the home I spent many years living, off and on, from time to time.  Floods of memories rush me now.  I remember her dog, Silver, taking my hand so gently in his mouth, leading me around the yard to his special places.  Her heart broke the first time when he died.  This home where she set my hot cereal out on the porch, letting it cool just enough for me to eat.  I remember her rich, home-cooked meals of chicken fried steak, green beans, mashed potatoes, iced tea and peach cobbler.  The rusty old dinner bell she used to ring to let Grandpa and the rest of us know it was suppertime.  I could never sleep in any room in that big old house but theirs.  Grandma would put up a cot for me to sleep in, but I would always end up crawling between them, waiting for Grandpa to mutter "spoon" then we'd all curl up real tight.  God, I loved them, they were my home.  Grandpa died too early.  It tore Grandma's heart up waiting years to join him.  Now I lay here with my son, wishing I had one more talk with grandma.  I wish she'd follow me into my room one more time to watch me pack, asking questions about all my clothes, books, jewelry.  I wish I could get grumpy one more time so she would tell me how much I reminded her of Grandpa.  I wish I'd hugged her more and how I wish I'd crawled into bed with her in those later years, snuggling up behind her, feeling her soft skin smelling of cold cream and the smooth satin of her gown.  I know she needed more hugs than I thought I could afford.  Selfish on my part, I'd go to visit her when I needed to run away from my own life, not realizing how precious those moments were.  I always thought I would have one more trip, one more chance.  I wish I had listened better when she talked about her French grandfather, showing up drunk and ornery, full of adventurous stories, or when she spoke of the early years with Grandpa, running off with him against her father's wishes.  It's been just over a week since she died and I think to call her everyday, I miss her so.  It was never easy for her to say goodbye.  She would stand on her tiny front porch, covered with vibrant ceramic roosters and tiny floral shrubs, waving until she couldn't see me any longer, tears hiding in the distance.  I can still see her waving there in the tall trees above.  I try to wave back, hoping she sees me.  Then, looking down, I rub my face against the soft cheeks of my baby boy, snuggling into his crinkled neck, sucking in the bitter smell of milk.  I pray to someone that I'll be as good a mother to him as she was a grandmother to me.  I know she'll help as much as she can.  I know she’s nearby, right here by my side, smoothing down the wrinkles, wiping off the counters, airing out the rooms.  This much I know.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Shoes

Tennis shoes are not a big deal.  They aren’t supposed to be, but we do live in them. They define us.  They tell the world who we are.  Some people wear pumas and to me, this says “I have style and money”.  Adidas say to me, I have style and I work out, but not really.  Nike says, I workout, period, all the time.  Converse Chuck Taylors have always spoken to me, personally. I love them, I live in them, I have six pairs of them.  Converse say to me, I have style but I’m not gonna blow all my money on a pair of shoes. As Isabelle Allende mentions in her novel, Paula, that when you are in your 20’s poverty is fashionable, and sadly, I’ve never grown up, I still like looking poor. Converse are comfortable, like barefoot comfortable.  I am wearing my black ones as I write this. I have two pairs of black, some crazy purple all-stars, brown high-tops and a pair of red ones for special occasions.  When I had my son, I did the most natural thing a Converse-lovin’ mama would do, I bought him a tiny pair of black ones and I put them on him the first chance I got, which turned out to be a disaster.  He had no interest , screaming and yanking them off, discarded to a closet, I later gave them to friends with kids less stubborn than mine.  I tried for years, suggesting different styles, commenting on their coolness and noting those people he admired who wore them.
In his 10th year of life on earth he decided that he wanted to learn how to play the drums. Specifically, he wanted to take the School of Rock summer camp.  We live for music. Dad is a drummer, we met at the infamous Electric Lounge, spending years attending every live music show we could get to, nightly.  We even worked in bars to get our fix even cheaper. Our ideal date night is to head out, in a cab, sucking down five-hour energy drinks to see one of our local faves from years gone by, The Pocketfishermen or maybe The Hickoids.  Alternatively, you might find us sipping beers or enjoying a bottle of wine while happily dissecting an old album from our youth, ZZ Top, Adam Ant, The Clash or maybe The James Gang.   When Jake reached out expressing his desire to play, well I was ecstatic.  He wanted to play drums, yummy, drummers are my personal weakness.  I always dreamed of playing the drums but instead I married a drummer, close enough.  I could already see it, my son, Jake, a hard-rockin’, tattoed, bad-ass drummer, going on tour with some mid-grade band, barely scrapping by, living at home when he was not touring, eating our groceries, bumming money, wait, well, let’s slow down!  We did not hesitate, but headed directly to the School of Rock, welcomed by tattooed, rock-n-roll, friendly types. I was dreaming, I was delirious and like any good mother, I pulled out the credit card and coughed up the $450 for one week of camp.  Damnit, my son was going to be a rock-n-roll star!  Next stop, fashion, because all great rockers know how to dress and when all else fails, black on black always works.  My credit card was burning.
He announced he wanted cool black t-shirts, done, easy.  Target men’s department has a slew of cool band t-shirts.  Then, he said….wait for it….that he wanted to DESIGN his own converse high-tops. Babe, the sky, the fucking sky, the damned cosmos is the limit, whatever you want my sweet beautiful  son because I know that these hightops and your summer band camp are going to come back ten-fold in tattoos and rock and roll.  You are going to fulfill all my fucking dreams.  Am I confused?  I mean when I was 18, this was my dream and because of my lack of maturity, I am not able to think like a reasonable mother.  Some moms wish for suits and ties, a home in the burbs, a good wife and a couple of kids, the 401K and insurance included. Here, I am gunnin’ for sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, all wrapped up in a summer camp and converse tennis shoes.  I was losing perspective but I wasn’t aware of it yet. 
Back at home we sit down at the mac and get busy, logging into Converse, I am excited, I am panting, I may have stopped breathing.  He begins his process of picking out the high-top, my senses think low might be better but I’m not going to interrupt this awesomeness.  He begins, picking blue, with purple outline, purple and blue paint splatters on the toe-tip, light blue stars, dark blue lining, aqua inner lining, I’m smiling and uh-huhing, what do I know?  I mean this look is total 1980’s and I’m thinking it is coming back, right?  I can see these shoes on David Lee Roth or the drummer from Def Leppard or maybe one of the guys from Duran Duran. Did wear high-tops?  No, but The Bay City Rollers did. My beautiful, artistic son knows what he wants and who am I to point out that this design is wild and crazy and intense and not….exactly…rock-n-roll 2012, maybe a little new wave 1983.  This crazy color combo is surely hip for the youngsters. It never, ever, ever occurred to me that this gorgeous boy, with his golden surfer locks, amazing personality, straight A’s, viper wit, nerdy dungeons and dragon creativity and intense ability to warp the English vernacular to fit his every moment of emotional expression was suffering from a legacy of colorblindness that would simultaneously create the craziest yet mildly unwearable converse ever.
We stared at them for a while, quiet.  “Do you like them?”, I said.  “Yes”, he said.  Well then, let’s do this.  I paid for them.  Another $115 bucks, this rock-n-roll lifestyle was expensive but totally worth it.  A few weeks later they arrived, a delightful smattering of 1983 throwbacks. I would have loved them when I was 17.  I’m sure I even tried to create a pair using powdered dye.  Jake was hesitant.  He had not meant to have a purple outline around the base, he didn’t know that the various blues didn’t match, yes, the aqua inner liner was intentional (whew), but he hadn’t realized there was also an issue with white and off-white canvas clashing.  We tried to toughen them up with some black shoe-strings.
He was hesitant to wear them but he did, every day of camp, and I really thought they were beautiful.  He was the enigmatic cool, recreated cool, one of a kind cool.  But, at the end of the week, the shoes were discarded into the closet, never to be worn again, a constant reminder to me, that for a moment, he almost joined my converse cult. 
Maybe he would have never known if I hadn’t asked him, so sweetly, if he just really grooved on purple.  Maybe if I had never brought up the variating blues, asking him if he had meant to do it, he would have never cared.  He still plays the drums but not with that ecstatic fever I had hoped for and I’m thinking he is going to be a graphic designer or cartoonist, slightly more stable, less drugs for sure.  But there are the shoes, those shoes, winking at me every time I put away his clothes, reminding me that they are a size 9, my size. So, I picked them up and tossed them into my pile of converse.  I’m not getting rid of them, I’m keeping them, a symbol of that brief moment of creativity and imagination when I knew for sure that my son would be a rock-n-roll star, wanted to be one. I’ll figure out the perfect time to wear them.  They aren’t my style, yet.  Later, when I’m 70 or 80 I’ll take a cruise around the block in them, maybe bang on the drums in the garage, or if I’ve landed on bad times and I find myself pushing my belongings in a grocery cart, living in a box, my last act of defiance will be to pull on those damned converse.  Bury me in them, I’ll scream.  And Jake, well, Jake is back to his running shoes and his sweatshorts.  Just a normal kid, with a crazy mom, and that’s o.k.  

Monday, April 01, 2013

Haiku April #1

everyday I change,
today, I'm a skater girl
what will I be next?

Morning Ritual

The sweet sounds of Glenn Miller’s orchestra playing Moonlight Serenade awaken me.  I lift my body from the bed, drinking my water down then stumble into the kitchen for coffee.  I sit.  I wait.  Slowly, soon I begin to tick and hum, I’m ready. I call Ellray, our puppy, “Let’s wake up Jake”.  I hope and wish and dream about him waking easy.  Ellray jumps on the bed, sits on him, licks his neck.  “Wake up wake up wake up wake up”….he barely moves, “one finger cold, two fingers hot”.  This is our system of communication.  I need to know whether he wants hot or cold chocolate. I need to know.  No answer, I head back to the kitchen to pull down the tall vintage glass with the diamond print, grabbing a spoon.  Holding the hershey’s high as I pour the syrup down the sides, filling the bottom.  As I pour the milk into the glass, I begin to clang the spoon around the inside of the glass mixing milk and chocolate. I love the sound, making it louder than it needs to be.  I want him to remember, just like I do, the sounds of morning rituals.  He stumbles in with half his bed wrapped around him, “Toast, bagel, fruit, tortilla, what will it be?”, no answer, “tortilla it is”.  I proceed gayly, humming to myself, having conversations with the dogs, entertaining us all with my silly voices, random thoughts and stupid rhymes.  KUT news in the background.  Meanwhile, I’m stealthfully eying him, like a hostage watching it’s captor.  Checking for signs of life, a flicker of a smile or chuckle.  Soon the sugar kicks in and my son, not this beast, will emerge. 

Laughter, I hear it, a smile at one of the voices I’ve made for the dogs and we are off,  “15 minutes, you’ve got 15 minutes”.  It seems like forever but not for the master of distraction.  “Get dressed, socks, shoes, teeth brushed”. It seems so simple, but it’s not.  There is plenty of time to display the pooping tortilla or pretending he has stolen something and I must find it, or kiss and hug all the dogs or crawl under Dad while he does yoga.  GET DRESSED! 

Packing his lunch, the same thing, fruit, meat, veg, candy, salty snack, clif bar and a fruit twizzle.  Slamming the bottle of water into the lunchbox, I shove it all in his backpack.  GET DRESSED!  Pulling his clothes on, he is momentarily distracted by a pencil sharpener, the minutes are ticking. I change into an acceptable amount of clothing to walk him to school.  BRUSH TEETH!  NOW!  “I DID”, he yells.  We live ½ a block from the school but sometimes we are so late we actually drive .  “LET’S GO”.  I stand by the door with backpack in hand.  I’m freaking out and ready to go as a stand-in for him, just leave him behind. The coffee has kicked in good now and I’m tweaking, I’m flying.  He is kissing each dog good-bye, there are FOUR OF THEM.  He is smiling, we are out the door and now, the mood changes as we walk, no stress, we are on the road.  This is when we squeeze in some fun or important conversations or maybe our schedule for the day. Sometimes he tells me about his most recent superhero he has created, I know I’ll miss these days.  I may tell him a story of when I was young. Today we talk about Lady Rainicorn from Adventure Time. We ponder why she only speaks Japanese and is it real Japanese.  We laugh about how Jake the Dog got a translator for her to talk to Finn but she sounded like an old man.  Then we recap last night’s latest obsession, Heroes, we are junkies.  We cross the busy street, my excuse for still walking him even in 5th grade.  “Have a good day”, I wrap up our conversation quickly and act cool and detached. I’ve learned to no longer expect a hug or a kiss, something I couldn’t have imagined I would be able to do 4 years ago.  As he walks alone, he looks back for a subtle wave and I know it means, “I love you”.  I turn and walk in silence, home, careful to not step on a crack, I don’t want to break my mother’s back.