What we're loath to say

There are days in which the degree of highs and lows takes me clear by surprise. In my 40s, I increasingly rarely feel actual surprise. Disappointment? For sure. Disgust? Yep. A grim sort of foregone conclusion? Uh huh.

But outright surprise is harder to come by these days and is usually reserved for horrors like untimely death. Or the continued cancer of the current “president.” How that man gets grosser and grosser is truly astounding, but maybe that’s my naiveté and ever-hopefulness.

In any case, what I will say is that there are moments in which parenting cuts you off at the knees so brutally, so painfully, so egregiously, and so quickly that it takes your breath away. The method of harm, the size of the input force, is not directly correlated to the degree of issue or transgression; that, further, is part of the gasping pain.

I have largely stopped writing about parental challenges, recognizing that my boys, as they grow up, are more aware of what I do and share, more private and rightfully so, and more distinct as formed (forming) humans. Their voices are theirs; their lives belong to them. The space I have left as their mother, in terms of writing and public processing, is increasingly small. This is as it should be, in my opinion. What remains is MY experience as their mom, what I can capture as personal experience distinct from theirs.

This terrain is less charted with regards to the “mommy blog” and pediatric spheres. Sure, you have a general sense of tweendom, but each tween is such a unique being, interplaying in such specific ways with their hormones, family, peers, school, classes, personal struggles, interests, identities, and so forth. What you can expect at 12 years is infinitely more complicated, generally speaking, that what you can expect at 12 months. Perhaps this is actually what makes parenting adolescents so vexing: each of us is always dealing with a new challenge.

I’m actually not much interested, tonight, in delving into research or generalizations. What I am is tired and furious and in love and sad and over it. And tomorrow looms. And that stops for nothing.

What I want to say but am sometimes shy to say; what I think so many of us want to say but are loath to for a variety of reasons that irk the shit out of me, is that sometimes this whole parenting gig just sucks. It sucks and blows so hard that it takes my breath away and renders me speechless and pissed.

It leaves me having spent all day making a special meal to find myself standing in my pjs with the show I’d been wanting to watch all day on pause because a note from a teacher just came about a missed assignment that was now a zero and suddenly, everyone is screaming and in tears. Is someone kidding? It’s both real and absurd. It’s the complete opposite of how I envisioned tonight and so very much wanted it to be.

At the end of the day, the gumbo was one of the best I’ve made, and the fighting and crying probably made us closer, and that show isn’t that good anyway. But still. It all felt so damn fraught and not remotely easy and also not remotely efficient or timely, and seriously, WTF?

The gumbo was loved and there is more for tomorrow. The banjo was played, and lovingly so. The paper will be better, but still a deserved zero. The book remains forgotten at school for another damn day. The Bach on the piano is being studiously avoided. The wine bottle is less full. We are all tired. And maybe this is the best of family, and the worst, and real life. But sometimes I sure wish it was easier.

A blur

I am so tired tonight I can hardly keep my eyes open. Ol was up at 4am with a nightmare, and I was never able to get back to sleep. I spent the day at school taking photographs of students new and old, some nervous, some utterly at home, some keen on talking, some inward and unsure as we all have been some or many times. Some of these bright faces I've known for up to six years; some of those are like my own nieces and nephews. When I interact with these children, I feel lucky that my own boys get to learn and spend time with them. 

I didn't bother counting how many of the same routes I drove on repeat today. I was just happy I could keep the windows rolled down, a fall breeze gusting through as (mostly) good music played. 

Sometime, ages ago, I made it to yoga. I had to leave early to be at school, but the 65 minutes I spent centered on my mat were tremendous. And I don't mean that in any way but literal. The woman next to me twice dropped bagged crystals from her cleavage -I am not kidding- and finally laid them all on her blanket. Beyond that momentary distraction (and, admittedly, the time I spent periodically throughout today pondering substantially-sized crystals housed in billowy mesh bags of various pastel hues tucked in a lycra yoga tank and yet still tumbling forth), I was so grateful for the quiet time in which I was to focus on me. My breath. My practice. My strength. My connection with all around me. Yoga. From the Sanskrit "yug" meaning to join, unite, yoke.

There's also an element of subjugation in that Sanskrit meaning, but I'm not going there. Except in the ways it makes me consider how often I do subjugate my needs to those of the loved ones I tend and the issues I care about and advocate for. Which are decisions I want to make. But still. It is essential to step back sometimes, and yet, despite decades of practice, I continue to find doing so a challenge.

Tom hugged me last night, and half-jokingly quoted from Good Will Hunting: "It's not your fault, it's not your fault." 

"It is!" I replied. "I never say 'no." 

"No, honey, I know that. I mean, it's not your fault if another volunteer doesn't step up. That doesn't mean you have to fill in."

Food for thought. But I am getting better.

The boys have had a marvelous first week of school. Their school. That dreamy, exceptional place whose cost makes me quiver but which always seems worth it. And god are we forever so damn fortunate to be able to do this. Truly. I think about the rather lousy education I had access to growing up, how flummoxed by everything I was when I got to college, how desperately I had to work to catch up. I learned so much during the catch up, but it was a bear of a challenge, would have been easier to build along the way instead of tacking up a foundation, shell, necessities, and an addition all on short notice. But alas. My lucky boys.

Today during my pictorial tour of the student body I happened across Ol's class. He didn't see me at first but I saw him. Racing across the playground, sweaty and mussed, eyes flashing with joy, voice without a care in the world calling out to old friends and brand new ones. He spotted me and ran over, draping himself atop and across me. "Oh, mama, I love to see you at school. I love you! Can I help you?"

Did I ever feel that gleeful and free in third grade? In second? In fourth? I am nearly certain I didn't. What about the glee I felt today in Ol's embrace? And in Jack's when I picked him up? Hard to articulate that, really.

And yet in this soft, fuzzy skein of love also threads a few strands of overwhelm, a chokehold that I thought would have loosened by now. No one tells you motherhood doesn't get easier. I mean, it does in some ways, but in others, no dice. 

We desperately needed to go to the grocery store this afternoon, after I'd left the lower school, raced to the middle school to get Jack, raced back to the lower school to get Ol. I had been gone from home since 8:30am and was sweaty and beat. And the thought of taking both kids with me to the market just before the 5pm crowd descended was not something that made me enthused. It made me feel yoked and overwhelmed and pissy about being out of milk. 

The kids were not badly behaved, but let's just say they weren't calm, either. We left with milk but also three pints of ice cream and the most bizarre assortment of items for "picnic dinner." And my head was spinning. I felt like one of those malfunctioning Fembots in Austin Powers, all blowing gaskets and puffs of smoke and lolling eyes. 

I don't have any words of wisdom to tidy this post up with. I feel rusty and dry here which vexes me to no end. But I made it to yoga, and I saw my boys in their elements today, and I helped out and met some new people and hugged lots of old friends and the greatest teachers who guided my children and are now friends, and I still managed to cook us all dinner and tuck my boys in. And there is a lot of love swirling around. Lots of memory of this day sixteen years ago when I lived in New York and a dark plume of smelly smoke and ash and char and destruction blew up the avenues towards my apartment. 

Out of darkness most always comes light, even when you can't see it for a bit. I see it today but boy am I tired. Hope y'all are well. 

A Mother's Taps

I'm halfway reclined on a charcoal gray leather couch, trying to read a Cheryl Strayed essay for a class that begins Wednesday. I'd wrongly bet the ranch that Wednesday would be relatively free, given that it's the second day of school and all. But now I'm thinking, Wednesday is the second day of school and all, and why do I ever count on the first week of school for anything except some mayhem. When will I learn?

But class, and a small procedure which I'm choosing not to contemplate too much, is coming. And at the other end of the gray couch is a little boy in a pink-striped pajama top and vehicle-themed undies. His head is just shorn, freed of the three months of summer 'ponytail' growth we'd come to brush away from his eyes and out of his ears.

All that hair, that clogged his goggles and frizzed so dramatically each morning, is gone. Cut and vacuumed away while his older brother and I grocery shopped for back-to-school gumbo and the always-needed new gallon of milk. 

I didn't even get to see a cut or finger a lock. Didn't say goodbye to that street urchin wig. And like that, one vision of summer is gone.

I glance down at this pink-clad wonder, one hand clasping his iPad, the other wrapped around his only slightly pudgy thigh. He's going on seven-and-a-half, and pudge is hard to come by these days. Adult teeth are coming in, his legs and feet are looking terribly manboyish, his slightly dirty nails, the ones on the hand clasping his thigh, seem older. I don't know how or why. They just do. 

“Do you want me to blow this thing up?” his precious, perfect, magnetic voice asks.

“No,” I say, wondering what he's talking about now. I pay attention to just about 40% of all Minecraft-related jabber these days. Now that I write that, the number seems incredibly high.

“Why not?” he asks. “I am going to because I can rebuild it. Also, I have a safe room. And do you know how well bonemeal makes things grow? You should see my carrots."

He is so little and yet not. What does he know of TNT and bonemeal and safe rooms and tidy nails? Not yet past the first page of Strayed's essay, I am so ready for school, and yet these moments.

They strip away the fatigue and the mind-numbing boredom, the bickering and the Legos everywhere. Strip, peel, slough, toss, leaving behind glossy, exfoliated memories, ephemeral snapshots that focus on the sweet and trim away the rest; the rest that ages, wears, begs to be forgotten. 

All I can hear and see and want to know is this precious creature who is mine. But Cheryl has just lost her mother, and the US Open is on, and this darling, blue-eyed Frenchman who looks straight out of 1983 is head to head with Rafa Nadal, a man I admire so much but who tonight reminds me of a balding rat, and Tom and I have only been teammates for days, nothing more. And carpool and schedules and my god the unread emails.

I shoo Ol upstairs to brush teeth and get ready for bed. I eat a salad of garden tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. I’ve had several glasses of wine. I've taken a bite of an offensively disappointing butter cookie. I've given it up with disdain.

I can hear the kids sorting Legos, as if their arms and hands are plastic-brick rakes. Will the raking yield the longed-for piece or does it matter? Is the raking meditative? Purposeful in its own way? I hear them talking and chatting, no longer fighting and ear-clapping out each other’s words. They adore each other. I hope they always do. But have they brushed those teeth?

I've not bothered to mark my place in Cheryl's essay. I'll just start over tomorrow-isn't that what I always say? Which is why I have so many hopefully saved articles to read on Facebook and on my night table and strewn about the house.

I've returned, instead, to Oliver Sacks' last book, On The Move, which I'm well into and love. What a man he was. I wonder, with regards to people like him, what might have been different if they'd had children. Would anything? Everything? Would their accomplishments be less? More? Quieter? 

How would I be different were I not a mother? Would I have not received that writing rejection today? Would I even be writing at all? What is one without the other? What would either be on its own?

Impossible to know. I have never for a second regretted having children, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes wonder about motherhood's costs. They feel mammoth in dark moments, irreplaceable gifts in the next. All the onions to chop for a big gumbo- the mound of tear-inducing alliums: will it ever end? Just a bit later all that work is but a stew of translucent rumors, there enough to make you sure of their crucial presence, mysterious enough to keep your doubt aflame.

One toddles downstairs-"I'm hungry, mama!"-as the cat starts to gag. I put away my book, relocate the cat from carpet to wood floor, wonder aloud if a cinnamon apple and an ants on a log will quiet the rumbling tummy. 

"Mama, did you invent ants on a log?"

"No, sweetie, it's been a snack for as long as I can remember."

The ants and their what? Mud? tumble to the floor. "It's OK, pick it all up. It's fine." And he laughs as he mashes the ants and peanut butter and whatever else is along for the ride back into the log. And he howls as fibrous ribbons stream away from the celery as he bites and chews, green ribbons going every which way.

Cheryl and Oliver and Tom and the cat and the Legos wait in the other room, as a little one and I dance, sticky with muck and rogue ants and streamers. And my sweet other comes down and says, "I'm hungry too."