Tag Archives: parenting

Writing in a Hurry

Summer invited me over for paella and sangria tonight and I went gladly. A few days ago she sent me a link for a couple of requests for submissions that she thought would interest me. She does so periodically. Once, a year or so ago, I actually sent off a piece and it was accepted and published. Remembering that, I decided to try it again. In the space between reading student papers and waiting for my daughter to wake up, I wrote a query and emailed it off. In the bio, I wrote that I was an “occasional writer,” and explained myself away by saying that I am the single mother of a teenage daughter. Single mothers will understand — single fathers too.

But is that really my excuse? I always have an excuse for not writing. I’m a single mother. I’m working full-time. I have other things going on. Right now it’s summer. I should have time to write. I teach two classes instead of three, four days a week instead of five. Why is it hard to drum up 500 words for my blog during a time that should be more expansive? Today I plunged back into my retrospective, was interrupted three times, and realized that if I wanted to publish it, I needed to hit publish. So I did.

Tonight, slightly buzzed on sangria after a brisk walk home from Summer’s house in perfect night-time weather (finally the evenings have cooled down after last night’s dramatic thunderstorm), I rearead today’s blog entry. Typos, awkward sentences, moments when I could have said what I wanted to say more subtly, or more clearly. I berated myself, and then gave up. I recognize the cycle. I get good about writing regularly, get on a roll, and then get pulled aside. Then I beat myself up, and try again, and fail again.

Summer has nine months off — a time of bliss, I think. She has the summer, right now, and then a quarter’s sabbatical, and then a quarter of unpaid leave subsidized by a large artist’s award she won last year. She has been going to writer’s retreat after writer’s retreat, and last week, she received two acceptance notices for pieces she has written.

“Do I dare tell you?” she speculated, when she was over for an afternoon with her writing. She had a “piece-within-a-piece” she was contemplating for publication. I’d offered to help her read it and make suggestions about cutting. She’d taken me up on the offer.

“Tell me,” I said.

“OK.” She thrust her glass at me. “Promise you won’t be mad?”

“Why would I be?” I pour her wine. I know what she’s going to tell me, that she’s been accepted again.

“Will you be happy for me? Or jealous?” she asks.

“You know I don’t get jealous.”

She tsks and shakes her heads and sips her wine. “OK,” she says and she tells me.

I’m happy for her. I tell her congratulations. I don’t tell her that I appreciate the way she sends me links of places she thinks might like my writing. I know she knows I appreciate her thinking of me, and that she doesn’t like flattery/praise. It does make me happy to know that even though I write only rarely, in bursts here on this blog, and almost never in any other capacity, that she believes in me somehow, enought to send me a link here and a link there, to say, on occasion, “You really just need to send your writing out over and over again. Just get into the routine. Just do it.”

So today I wrote a query letter, and cut-and-pasted an old entry to it, and sent it out. If Summer says, “Do it,” I might as well try.

And I think of how lucky I am. I have several friends who encourage me. My blog friends, and two real-life friends, R.C. and Summer. If I don’t send writing out, it’s my fault. Mostly I don’t have time to write, let alone revise and edit and polish. Today’s ham-fisted attempt at an unfinished retrospective, published in the split-second before Zeke came downstairs in a grumpy mood — “Mooooooommmmm,” she wailed from upstairs, and I finished my sentence and hit publish before she rounded the corner because I knew I was in for a long conversation — is an example of why I rarely fully finish anything I write.

“In a couple of years,” I tell Summer, “she’ll be in college, and I’ll have a lot more time. In the meantime, I don’t mind being available. Those years go fast.”

Summer, childless, nods. She never protests or condemns. She has her own challenges when it comes to writing. And I have mine. Zeke, 15, sensitive and kind and sweet. Happy in general, but tormented at times by the frustrations of being a teenager in a world of doubt and difficulty. We argue sometimes, but mostly we just live in a kind of gentle, easy orbit. Her friends come in and out, in and out, and hang out and leave and come back, and I’d rather have them here than elsewhere, so my computer is commandered for MySpace sessions, and I cook baked potatoes and pasta, and I don’t write.

Still, Summer’s links, today’s writing sessions, the cool night air blowing throw the house after last night’s dramatic thunderstorm — all these feel like nods from the fates. I’ll try to write, when I can, and if I can’t find the time, I’ll try to just accept it.

Explaining my mother

I’m at my dad’s house. Leah is visiting from across the waters and we are preparing to go on a sightseeing tour.

And suddenly I’m stopped. Can’t write. There’s so much I want to say, and all of it clogs together in my head, a cacophony of words demanding their moment to be heard, to shape themselves into images, to present themselves in the form of recollections and reflections.

What I want to say is that my mother was extraordinary. (Why did I write “is” at first?) Because I’m unfolding the retrospective slowly, and trying to describe what happened without too much explanation or unpacking or projecting forward into the “now,” it might seem that she was a terrible mother in some ways, that she made unforgivable mistakes. But she was not. She was very sick at the time, with an illness nobody could figure out. She was living the dark burden of her own traumatic childhood, trying to overcome it alone, without the benefit of counselors to help her recast her past in a new and more illuminating light. As a child I knew none of this, or at least, I knew she was sometimes sick in bed, but I didn’t know how deeply her illness weakened her emotionally, and I knew nothing about her past.

What amazes me about her is that she overcame all of it, all the horror of her own upbringing, her father’s suicide when she was five, her mother’s raging alcoholism, the dysfunctional society in which her family stood as some kind of beacon of respectability. She changed, altogether. Those who knew her in the last 20 years of her life knew her as someone fully kind and loving, generous to all, always looking for the best in people. There was a lag in how she applied her love to her children, I realize. It started on the outer edges of the pond of her life and rippled back towards the center, where we were grouped. She could not, in the early years, be as unstintingly generous with her compassion towards us as she was towards others. But she did love us. She did everything out of what she believed was the best for us. And in truth, there were good days. There were days when she showed up at school, and the school secretary came to fetch us from class, and we would go to the beach with another family to take advantage of the rare sun. There were days when Dad was home late, and we would sit in the kitchen with her friend and her friend’s kids, and eat biscuits (cookies), and talk and laugh. We went to the pantomime and the opera. We got swimming lessons in Dublin, and stopped off at the campus bakery for fresh-baked meltingly soft rolls on the way home. We went to Bewley’s on the half day at the end of every term for raisin buns and fudge. We marched in Dublin to try to save Wood Quay, the site of a Viking excavation, and she helped us make a placard for our dog, and afterwards we ate in the newly opened McDonald’s, Ireland’s first, with the dog curled under our seat. I tasted my first milkshake then, and laughed when the boy who was mopping the floor pretended to mop up the dog.

We had fun. There was joy. I did laugh. I know I did. It’s just that the dark moments intervened at times, and they shaped me as much as the fun times.

So I have to say, before I continue my retrospective, that my mother was an extraordinary, beautiful, kind woman, who saved herself somehow from her own traumatic past, and in doing so gave us — her four girls — the tools to help us heal ourselves. Two of my sisters have had extensive counseling, one on the East coast and one in Ireland. One should probably consider it. I have visited a counselor now and again, not often, and done what I can through reading and walking meditation and prayer — my mother’s path. It has not always been easy. It will not ever be easy. But it is possible, and every time I breathe deep and feel joy, I think of my mother, who taught me how.

Molly, tears and being a mom

This made me cry. It reminded me of what I would could confess right now, were confession possible at this hour. I miss my horse. More than that, I cannot face my own culpability in the way my life changed, in the way I had to give him up in order to help Zeke. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The divorce destroyed something in her — her trust, her faith that things would turn out all right. They always had before, but when she was 10 — almost 11 — they didn’t. By the time she had turned 13, she was struggling. Adolescence stretched before her — before me — and I dreaded what was happening. I was struggling to keep my horse, and working off his board, and rarely home, and she said, one day, “You love that horse more than me.” And I said, “It’s not true.” And she didn’t believe me.

My friend, who was letting me keep my horse at her place, said she was being manipulative, that she was being spoilt. She might have been, I suppose, but still, I couldn’t sleep for worry about her. Another horse friend said I needed to assert my authority. “I would never have been able to treat my parents the way she treats you,” she said. “You need to teach her who’s boss.”

But my heart said something else. Zeke is sensitive, extremely so. I knew it. Whatever was happening was a response to pain, not misbehavior. So I gave away my horse. I couldn’t sell him, although he had cost me a lot. I just couldn’t sell him. It was like taking money to sell a friend.

Zeke got better, though not totally. “What do you need from us?” I asked her one day, meaning “from your father and me.”

“I want to live with you,” she said. “All the time. I don’t want to have to go to Dad’s house.” I had full custody at the time, but she had been staying with him on a three or four school nights a week because her school was in his town, not mine, and she didn’t want to change schools. I would pick her up from school and bring her home with me, and she’d stay with me till he picked her up on the way home from work. I saw her every day that way, but didn’t have to get up an hour earlier to take her to school. It seemed ideal, except that she was struggling.

It’s not that she doesn’t love her dad. She just didn’t click with his wife (and there are good reasons, I would say). So I talked to her father. We worked something out. She has been with me full time for two years, and I drive her to and from school every day. Two days a week he’s supposed to pick her up from school, but he’s busy, and doesn’t always have time. It’s OK. She is far happier now.

In the end, listening to her worked. Giving up my horse was what she needed. Getting up an hour earlier every day to get her to school so she didn’t have to stay with her dad made the difference. Her grades are good. She is popular and happy. She stands up for what matters to her — a day of silence in support of her gay and lesbian friends, choosing to sit at the lunch table with the overweight new  girl, resisting the tremendous peer pressure to smoke cigarettes and the omnipresent we*d, to have s*x, to drink and party hard.

On Mother’s Day she and a friend made me dinner, baked me a cake. We sat down together and ate and talked and laughed. That night, at 1:00 a.m., she came into my room and lay down beside me (as she sometimes does; she’s been a lifelong light sleeper, starting before birth!). “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “I’m lucky to have you as a mother. I can tell you anything, and you listen to me.” We talked for a while, and then she hugged me and went back to bed.

I’m proud of her, proud to bursting. She’s funny and strong and sweet. She’s beautiful and smart too. I think of Molly, and my own horse, whom I gave up and miss terribly at times. I think of Zeke. I wish it could have been different, but I think it was right not to teach her “who’s boss.”

It’s the human conundrum. I did what I must confess, failed to love my horse enough in order to love my daughter the way I think she needed to be loved. One wrong to try to make a bigger right. Is it bigger? People who don’t love horses the way I do would probably say yes, but horse lovers would probably disagree. My horse friends would. Childless themselves, they don’t understand. Their horses are their children. They see me as having given up my child.

Conner. I’m sorry.

Happy Birthday!

At 12:02 p.m., 15 years ago, Zeke was born.

I cannot imagine my life without her, without our headbutts and arguments, without our heartfelt late-night conversations, without our restaurant trips with her friends where I get a glimpse into what being a teenager these days is. I can’t imagine a life not surrounded by her and her friends, who fill this house on the weekends, and sometimes during the week. I can’t imagine not hearing the sound of her voice as she sings in the shower, or not seeing her dancing in her room to the  tunes on her iPod.

She and I live together with our dogs in a little two-bedroom condo. I drive her all over the valley to pick up and drop off friends, and sometimes I feel like an ATM machine as I hand out $20 here and $20 there so she can take a friend to a movie or walk to the grocery store and buy “movie night” snacks. But I’d rather always be on the verge of running out of money and have her in my life than have a fat savings account without her. When I hear her talk to her friends, and counsel them on their life problems, I am proud. She is thoughtful, wise and strong-willed. She doesn’t bow to peer pressure. And she makes me laugh.

Fifteen years ago today, my little miracle was born. I’d had three previous pregnancies (and two after her birth),  and was not supposed to be pregnant at that time because I was undergoing medical treatment for a scarred uterus and ovaries. “You can abort it,” the doctor said, “and start over. Or you can keep it and risk another miscarriage.” Or keep it and be violently sick for eight months (don’t worry, severe morning sickness is a sign of a “good” pregnancy, according to my OB-GYN), and then give birth early, induced because of toxemia, and hold in your arms, at last, the tiny, perfect product of years of wishing and yearning.

Happy Birthday, Zeke! I love you.

Retrospective 8: 1970 — Confusion

  • We toss little plastic men with plastic parachutes on fine string off our sixth-floor apartment balcony. They spin and turn as they float to the grass below. Then we clatter down the stairs (the elevators were always broken), and pick them up, and we wrap the string and the parachutes around their bodies as we go back up the stairs. And we do it again and again, a complete aerobic workout, in the breezy summer days of those early years in Switzerland.
  • Who is we? My sisters are younger. Ruth May is still an infant. Perhaps the parachute-throwers are me and my best friend, Genie. She speaks English too, and we have our own private language with which we can torment our friends. We tease them in French, then talk together in English, and they implore, implore us to tell them what we say. She has a cardboard Wendy house, and we paint it bright colors in her living room. Then we pop in and out in crazy games of hide-and-seek, while her round-eyed little brother beats on the roof with a paper towel holder.
  • I am five and inclined to be helpful. I decide to take the trash out one night. I tie the top of the bag and haul it down to the basement, where I heave it into the dumpster. By the time I get back upstairs, in the dark, my mother is frantic. She grabs me. “Where were you?” her voice high with panic. But Dad is home, has just walked in the door, and after she is done with me, he give me five francs. This is the beginning of a pattern that haunts me for the rest of my childhood. When Mum is furious with me, he is nice.