Quarantined at Twenty

I woke up this morning, ate a bowl full of berries and honey, drank coffee, and watched the birds. You were upstairs, showering, after crying, ‘ I don’t want to get old!” I made the potato salad for our “social distance picnic,” which will take place six feet apart from your grandparents, whom you have not hugged since you said goodbye at Christmas and boarded the plane back to Michigan. We had no idea that three months later you would be flying back home to finish your sophomore year virtually, leaving your roommates and friends behind.

Peeling the red potatoes always reminds me of Lolo. Even though my version of the salad is vegan and does not have five thousand white onions in it, the act of pulling off the hot, thin, red skin and staring out the kitchen window at the birds, who were fighting over the two blackberries I left in their glass feeder, reminded me of her and I felt her peeling potatoes along with me.

I realized that I forgot the cocoa powder for the cake and, as I had to return the dress I bought for Chris and Justin’s wedding anyway, you joined me in the car to make the 2 minute drive (freedom is just another word for nothing else to do) to the UPS drop off line, and grocery store. Of course, we didn’t just get cocoa. You insisted that I wake you up tomorrow with a mimosa. As we headed toward the champagne aisle you reminded me of why stores cannot label sparking wine “champagne,” unless it was specifically born in Champagne, a tidbit you learned from Professor Ruth Ann Nichols, who was a guardian angel to you your freshman year. You noticed the circus peanuts at the end of the aisle and screamed, “CIRCUS PEANUTS! IT IS MY BIRTHDAY,” and grabbed them, not caring if they weren’t vegan, but knowing that Lolo probably sent them as an angel hello (your shared favorite candy, better when they are stale). In the car, we each ate one and toasted cheers to our Lolo, who we both miss like mad.

As I drove I thought about the windmill and fig newton cookies in her homemade ceramic cookie jar and about how important grandparents can be to our identity. The first text you got today was from Grandpa Greg and it read, “enjoy your last day as a teen.” I think this was about the time you started to cry about old age. He texts you something every morning. It makes me feel lucky.

So here we are during the pandemic, quarantined together, sharing a room. Twenty years ago I was quarantined to this room too. Three months of bedrest, just you and me.  In those twenty years, the internet was invented. Netflix. The iPhone. Imagine what life will be like when you are forty. Will we still be wearing masks?

I am grateful that you are my sidekick in quarantine. It is hard for all of us to be in this wee space again. Yesterday I waited ninety minutes for the bathroom. One of the things that makes me saddest in the world is that we never had the kind of house that had room for guests. I always imagined my house being the house that all of your friends hung out at and that our yard would be cozy and whole. I did not imagine a house full of so many broken things. Yet somehow that history has become part of your resiliency. I have watched, in your twenty years, you beam from high highs and I have seen you experience the deepest levels of humiliation and betrayal. No matter which end of the spectrum you are on, you rise up. Nobody puts Baby in the corner. You, dear girl, princess warrior, are here to make your mark. In all of my dreams lately (and maybe it is just because I am in this room again) I am pregnant. I am holding space for you. I am proud to be your mom, amazed at your tenderness and generosity, madly in love with your humor and curiosity.

Happy quarantine birthday, dear Elizabeth. All eyes on you, kid. Just like you like it. I love you. I love you. I love you. One day you will have a daughter, perhaps. You will look down at her newborn face and you will think, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that my mother loved me like this. How come nobody told me such a big love existed?” I will say, “I tried to tell you, but it is something that can only be felt in the in the space between circus peanut cheers and slick, red potato skins. The love is in the gap.

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24. Here We Are Again.

I was pregnant at twenty-four. This is not computing. This is not computing because today, you, my first born, are twenty-four years old. All I see when I think of it is a giant infinity sign, looping between us, dancing. Here we are again, Twenty Four. Full circle.

I have spent the last hour or so looking at pictures of you growing up and what strikes me is that there is something about ones mid-twenties where we start to kind of come into ourselves. We start to own who we are. Like I said to you on the phone tonight, this year, I believe, will be one where you reclaim, or perhaps claim, your true physicality. Suddenly all of the pictures of you as a boy look just like that … you, as a version of the self you are to become. Today’s pictures look like your essence, like you are learning to take your own light and make it shine.

When I was twenty-four we lived in Walkers Point in a huge unfinished ground floor loft on 2nd and Mineral with no furniture. We had a big futon bed on the floor and more space than any house we have lived in since that time. We slept until noon or one most weekends and complained when restaurants stopped serving breakfast by the time we got there. When I was twenty-four, the internet did not exist. We did not have cell phones or computers. We had one small TV and we rented VHS movies from time to time. I was twenty-four when I took my first teaching job.

I hadn’t planned on telling anyone I was pregnant. I really was kind of at a loss about the whole thing. I had to tell Grandma and Grandpa because we went over to their house for dinner one night and Grandma was bleaching the sink and Grandpa was making shrimp and the smell of those things together just about made me faint. Pregnancy nose. I didn’t know how much a nose was capable of scent until that pregnancy. I anticipated that my parents might be disappointed to learn that I was pregnant. I was wrong. They jumped up and danced and shouted hooray. Since then, since that very first announcement of you, everyone in our family has had a soft spot for you. You have invited us in since shrimp dinner.

I didn’t imagine then that when you turned twenty four, we would be in the middle of a pandemic. I didn’t know you would be living in California, two thousand and fifty six miles away from us. I could not have predicted the level of uncertainty and chaos that our planet is in. Despite that noise, I find my ground in you. You are my roots. It seems, I suppose, like it should be the other way around … that our parents are our roots. For me, though, my children hold me together. I can feel, from the center of my belly right down through the ground, the tangle of roots and stories, the map of me, that stems from you. I cannot imagine a world in which you aren’t at its center. Even as I branch off into new endeavors, I only find the courage to because of you.

Happy quarantine birthday, baby boy. If in my journey since twenty-four, we have invented the internet, Zoom, FaceTime, Netflix, and all Apple products, imagine what will happen in your next quarter of a century. Fall into yourself. Own it. Be you. I love you, as I do every year, beyond measure. Nothing compares to you.

 

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Quarantined at Nine

Quinn has always been one to entertain himself quite easily. He is super patient and relatively pokey with most things. In all those years of volleyball and long car rides he never once asked, “Is it almost over?” or “Are we there yet?” Tonight, as I tucked him into bed, he asked, finally, “How much longer?”

I have no idea why Easter is his favorite holiday. We aren’t remotely religious. He does not like candy. He asked, just the other day, if the Bible was a book about the presidents. Still, Easter, is his favorite day. Not getting to go find his basket at my mom and dad’s next weekend is starting to weigh on him. There are sadder things, much sadder things, but something about that quiet ask … how much longer … it just got to me.

It wasn’t a whine or a complaint. Just words from a boy whose world went from busy and structured to one of not knowing. He might be starting to sense the worry in the house… the close quarters between us, the fear of how we will pay for bills, the final projects that are stressing his siblings out… the sudden absence of routine, the not knowing if we will get to see his uncle get married this summer or take his first plane ride to visit his older brother. So many things to wonder about and no adults with helpful answers …

He said, as I started to close his bedroom door, “I would like to get a teddy bear in the shape and size of you so that it cuddled me all night long.”

Nine years old. What world have we brought you into? Each morning I watch the finches eat the seeds from the bird feeder that I hung on the Japanese maple. It drives both Sean and the dog crazy, the bird shit all over the deck and the constant  whimpering of the dog who is always too slow to catch them, but I wake up just to witness the start to their day. There is always, always, a red finch waiting for me. Somehow, knowing that those song birds found the food, that they intuitively know where to land, has brought me great comfort.

Maybe tomorrow we will watch them together.

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The Hum

The tree is down and the angels are packed, both the kinds in the boxes and the ones back on planes.

I sit, decades after first becoming a mother, and am aware of Empty.

Aware that the sound of silence includes no footsteps from above the dining room ceiling and includes, instead, an annoying hum.

It takes a minute

It takes a minute to realize that that the hum is not a void, but, instead, an invitation. One that sighs  I have shown you the caterpillars and seeds and even the trees and still you stubbornly grieve that this is an ending

A hum

Or is it a drum ?

Come, they told me,

Pa rum pum pum-pum…

A hum

Or is it a trumpet?

A newborn queen to see?

Pa rum pum pum-pum

I pause. Weep. Sing Willie Nelson and miss my grandma. Anything to distract from my own angelic dive

Toes gripping to what was,

The top of the tree so comfortably familiar.

I hear the blare of your trumpet, Hum. I hear the beating of your drum. I hear you loudest when you whisper, when obligation and anticipation have vanished and the pulse of the house is on pause.

Your  patient, prodding invitation is the voice of angels

The ones no longer packed in boxes. The ones waiting to catch me when I leap.

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Single Digits, for the Last Time

IMG_C50F6A5397C9-1.jpegAhh, Quinn, happy birthday number nine. It was so good to come home to you after dropping the last of your siblings off at college. I don’t think I would be quite ready to be an empty nester completely. When I drove Will to Michigan I listened to every episode of Justin Long’s Life is Short podcast. I discovered that Kevin Bacon was also only nine by the time his older siblings had all left home. It must be so strange to live half of your childhood with the flurry of activity that comes from a house full of brothers and sisters and the second half in “only child” mode. Kevin Bacon seems to have turned out okay, so I am not too worried. You did crawl into bed with me last night though. I think the house was just a bit too quiet for us both.

Recently Luke texted me this image of you and me from the beginning, nine years ago this week:

IMG_7928.jpg

That is hard for me to imagine and I am not quite sure how I managed the grief of it all or how I possibly went back to work ten days after an emergency c-section. Trauma can be funny that way I suppose. We block out the terror in order to function. When I think of that time all I think about is the stillness that resided in me. I went through life’s motions while feeling like I was on pause.

I am so absolutely grateful to you that you chose to stay, that you chose me as your momma. At nine, you still love to draw and to sculpt … you asked for tape for birthday. Honestly, I think you went through twelve rolls of tape last week. You still love cozy blankets, stuffed animals, Toy Story, Scooby Doo, Octonaughts, and YouTube. The Youtube thing drives me crazy. I will never understand what is entertaining about watching grown ass adults play games, but you cannot get enough of it. As far as food goes, you love chocolate, fettuccine, sausage, and black olives. On weekends you never get dressed. You sit, in your underwear, wrapped in one of those cozy blankets, and you make stuff with the tape and watch TV.

You remind me so much of Luke. He, too, loves television and movies. We have Luke home for a bit. You think he is the coolest. He plays loud music for you and you said that the coolest thing about Luke is that “he is Luke.” Dad and I always call the two of you our bookends, and Lizzie and William “the middles.” It is funny how that worked out, how the similarities lined up even though you are fourteen years apart. I am happy to report that Luke now dresses when he wakes up, even on days off, so I know you will get there.

I think about how much has transpired and transformed in these nine years and I am hopeful that our lives continue to be blessed with love and adventure and I look forward to creating the second half of your childhood with you. I hope it just gets richer, more colorful, more tape filled, more delicious for us all. When you were born I didn’t get to hold you. I only caught a glimpse of you as they rolled you away in your incubator. I noticed the dimple on your chin and I knew that angel kiss to be a sign of your resilience, your magic, and your determination to make this life a beautiful one. You certainly have added beauty to mine. Happy birthday, dear boy. You are the light of my world and I love you to pieces.

 

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So Far Not Dead

Last week I was texting my aunt Lori and she relayed some sad news to which I replied, “Did she die?” Lori texted back, “So far not dead,” which made me giggle despite the sad. I told her that “So Far Not Dead” would be a great title for a memoir and she said she would sell me the rights.

Summer is supposed to be my time to paint, but I have been too sad to paint. Joy has not found me this summer, which causes anxiety in all new ways because it’s my only time off. I cannot write that without tearing up because I know that school is around the corner and I know what that means. It means investing 100 percent of me into others. It means I missed my window.

Plus each night I go to bed surrounded my giant canvasses stacked up against my wall, paintings that did not sell from last summer, have nowhere to go, and it’s hard not to roll over and think “Why bother? Still poor.”

Yesterday something happened. I watched an eight year old boy be humiliated by his swim instructor and something in me snapped. It has been the third time in a row this summer that I have witnessed an adult authority figure embarrass a young boy. I had to pause and ask myself why this keeps showing up for me. I got in my car and shouted to the universe to stop showing me how much people suck. There is really nothing in the world that brings me to a boil more than watching a child be threatened by an adult. Nothing. It’s my zero tolerance line.

Yet none of the other parents watching this incident seemed to flinch. They didn’t even shift in their seats with discomfort. Even last time, at the toy shop, where the mother kept screaming at her crying son, “You are so annoying. You annoy me. I will whip your ass right here you are so annoying,” did anyone else flinch. I had to walk out of that toy store and throw up. I texted Susie, “How does anyone survive?”

In my mind I wanted to tackle that mom, to taser her, to, if nothing else, kneel down at the boy’s eye level and say, “What’s the matter, honey?” It made me think about how Grandma Jean used to sigh and say, “These things happen until one of them kills us.”

Yet so far, not dead. Chris says maybe it keeps showing up for me because It is a reminder that women hurt boys in ways that don’t get talked about a lot. We forget that denying that story and enforcing girls as being hurt by men keeps women in a culturally weaker state be enforcing the narrative that girls are victims and boys aren’t. “It sucks,” he said, “Needs to be addressed culturally.”

I don’t know if I can shift an entire culture. Maybe I can. I dunno. My mind has been racing with stories about times in my own life in which I felt or witnessed humiliation or abuse. I could go all the way back to pre-school when my mom bought me a pair of khaki pants. Twin girls at the Little Red House school teased me about looking like a boy. I was three, too young to know who Marlene Dietrich was.

So with the lack of painting I have decided to begin to log these accounts on an illustrated Instagram feed. My goal is to untangle for myself the stories that reside in me that make me feel small. Maybe these short stories will make you feel inspired or connected or maybe you can just be my witness. Maybe together we will make a cultural shift. I was debating about committing to this and then two things popped up on my feed. Russell Brand posted an Ursula Le Guin quote: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.” Also, my dad posted a New York Times article, Who Will Teach Us How to Feel? In both instances, I felt my arm shoot up in the same way it did when I sat in the front row of all of my college classes. I will. I will be the revolution and I will teach you how to feel.

So here I am. Feel free to follow and heart and share, or comment. Collectively, as witnesses, a revolution: https://www.instagram.com/so_far_not_dead/

xoxo

kelly

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Letting Go, Third Time’s a Charm

“It must happen to us all…We pack up what we’ve learned so far and leave the familiar behind. No fun, that shearing separation, but somewhere within, we must dimly know that saying goodbye to safety brings the only security we’ll ever know.” – Ricahrd Bach

For your birthday I bought you a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It wasn’t on your wish list, but it reminds me of you, my ambitious dreamer. I am naively hopeful that maybe you will keep it next to your dorm bed in Michigan. You are likely envisioning a much different dorm vibe.

Forty days. You leave in forty days.

When the three of you were little and I was feeling overwhelmed with the weight of motherhood, I would  count how many more years until you, my youngest back then, were eighteen, and I would breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I would only be forty-eight, plenty of time for me to live a life of my own. Then, a decade later, Quinn came along and that whole idea went to hell. Kidding. It just took a happy, scenic route detour. At least that is what we will tell him. Wink with me now, play along!

I am stunned at how quickly eighteen and forty-eight actually did sneak up on me. All three birds, outta the nest. Here I am. There you are. Cream rises, I guess, because despite how hard it all was, you have grown into the most charming, funny, introspective, handsome young man. I credit part of that to my own growth, part to a killer Montessori education, but most of it to you. You have known, since before you had words to articulate it, that this life, this world, was gonna be meaningful for you. Bach writes, “You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.” You, William, have the unique quality of having drive, but of also simply living, being. Maybe it’s your methodical math brain mixed with your creative design brain that makes you tick like that, but if you ask me, it’s your heart.

I love that you know yourself so confidently. I love that you are Lizzie are going to the same college and that you have found a best friend and confidant in her. At eighteen, you are a good listener, a reliable friend, not too cool to watch The Bachelorette with me just so that we can delight in its Twitter feed together. You have an incredible eye for detail (even when you were small you would complain to me about typeset that was off), a natural, enviable sense of humor, an endearing longing for adventure.

Letting go of you comes with its own challenges for me. I know you are seeking a life that includes things like skydiving and pushing your physical limits and I am going to do my best just to let you fly. Bach’s advice: “When you have come to the edge of all the light you have and step into the darkness of the unknown believe that one of the two will happen to you, either you’ll find something solid to stand on or you’ll be taught how to fly.” I love that image … “the edge of all the light you have.” It is how I will continue to imagine you. Glowing, believing, taking leaps, and growing into the vision of yourself that has been there since before time. I am so proud to be your witness.

Happy eighteen my love. Still my caboose. Don’t tell Quinn.

I love you.

Mom

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The Irises and the Tulips

LizzieToday, on my way to work, I noticed a patch of beautiful blue irises growing next to the most brilliant crop of yellow tulips. The colors were so pronounced because it is going to storm today and the early morning light was that perfect shade of Payne’s grey, a color, I am sure, that is the catalyst for pretty much every love and longing song out there.

For some reason the spring flowers reminded me of my spring babies and the irises in particular made me think about how this is that last year of your teens. Blue irises symbolize faith and hope, while tulips represent a perfect love. No wonder they reminded me of you. Brilliant light, shining hope, impossible not to notice,  the full promise of spring ahead of you. . .

I suppose driving quickly past the flowers made me a little nostalgic about time and its passage, how just yesterday you were playing Go Fish! with your stuffed bunny on our porch and yet here we are, Spring, 2019, and you are officially nineteen years old. One year of college in the books, a tumultuous and challenging year, but not without its highlights, the most notable of which was kayaking in the bioluminescent ocean in Puerto Rico, the sky lit up like a birthday party for Zeus and the water alive with magic and possibility.

I didn’t even realize how much I missed you until you came home from the summer. I know you hate sleeping with the dog and with me, but I have never slept better. Knowing that your pulse is an arms length away, knowing that you are safe and dreaming. It’s a fleeting moment. I love falling to sleep listening to your stories or hearing you crawl in after watching yet another late night episode of Game of Thrones with Will. I love not worrying about you walking home from a frat late at night or having your wallet or keys or phone. I am in awe of your ambition, your confidence, your compassion. You are one of a kind, my girl. One of a kind.

According to the world wide web, “in Chinese art, the iris definition most often supported is ‘the dancing spirit of early summer.’ The petals of iris blooms easily move in the wind, mimicking the fluttering of butterfly wings.” I cannot think of a better way to describe you. Who knew the internet might be more poetic than your own mom? Flutter. That is the word everyone uses to describe the first time they feel their baby move. For me, with you, that feeling has never left me. May your nineteenth year be one where you also feel the dawning of your most true self. I wish you love and adventure, deep friendships and wonderful mentors. Happy Birthday to the girl who has been there for me since before time and who continues to fill my life with such absolute joy.

I love you baby girl,

Mom

 

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Here’s Lookin’ at You, Kid. Happy 23

Luke, age 4

I remember my college graduation. My parents and Lolo crammed into my Brooklyn apartment and I stayed awake all night listening to the snores of my dad and my grandmother, so loud, so cyclical, that I was sure the building might levitate. I graduated at Lincoln center. My mom was three years younger than I am now and honest to God, Luke, it feels like yesterday.

Yet here were are. Three years after snores-a-palooza you were born. All two pounds of you. The week before your birth was a slew of hospital guests praying for you to at least make it to Mother’s Day. I guess you and I have that in common … we like to defy expectations, to do things in our own way and in our own time.

I just finished watching your thesis statement film, Equanimity (a word I had to Google). I cannot tell you how impressed I was or how in awe I am of your multitalented self. I teared up halfway through the Hamlet scene, not just because it was so damn good, but because of the comfort I found in knowing you have found your place in the world. Not many adults know what their calling is. You know. You have always known.

I don’t even really know what I would say to my twenty-three year old self that would be of any benefit to you. You already know way more than I did back then. You have become such an articulate, confidant, fun loving, high spirited, magical adult. You, and this has always, always been true of you, are a magnet. Light of the world …

Lizzie and I always marvel at the fact that you are one of the only persons we have ever encountered that holds no judgement. I have never heard you say a bad word about anyone. I have never heard you gossip. Ever. Do you know how amazing that is? Especially in your profession, that is amazing. It is annoying that you don’t let us make fun of the dresses at the Oscars, but if that is the worst thing that comes from being a beautiful soul, I will take it.

Happy twenty-three, my bartending by night, auditioning by day, boy. Congrats on your new contract and your new job, too. I cannot believe you are graduating from college in two weeks. I just cannot. You, my first born beautiful boy, the boy who made me a mom, is already a star. I hope that this new chapter of your life rewards you in the same energy that you use on the world: pure, blissful, open, surprising, and generous. Knock ’em dead kid. The world is ready for you.

I love you beyond measure.

Mom xoxo

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Eight and a Half

A faculty meeting about trauma sensitive schools today listed the words calm, alert, anxious, fear, and terror (or something like that) in chronological order and I joked with my colleague that they lined up with the months of the school year. January, exam week, for high school teachers, blows.

So it has been a day. A day followed my crash cart grocery shopping and a dinner that will suffice and now it’s time for you to do your homework and I am sitting here, at a dining room table in desperate need of refinishing, waiting for you. As I wait, I play the I Can’t Stay Quiet anthem from the women’s march via a text message that I received early today and didn’t have time to play. You come downstairs, mid-song, wearing only your underwear, and you start to dance alone in the kitchen,

I glance up and catch a glimpse of how tall you suddenly seem. You dance to the backdoor, unprompted, to let the dog out, and dance your way back to the lyrics, “but no one knows me, no one ever will.” You are oblivious to my observations, smiling, singing, dancing. It makes me tear up, the contrast of the lyrics with the innocence of age eight, an age (for you) uninterrupted by trauma or shame.

You are on the edge. The edge of when everything changes. I look at you and try to imagine feeling that way and I really cannot remember ever feeling it. It’s funny those lyrics … no one knows me. Right now I know you. I know you like black olives in your lunch and that you don’t ever use toothpaste. I know you don’t like juice. I know you want toys in your Easter basket instead of candy (which, if you aren’t gonna use toothpaste, is probably a good bet). I have no idea who you will be though.

Not yet do you have to grapple with identity or sexuality or harassment or insults. Not yet do we have to look at college applications and wonder which way to go. Not yet has a teacher torn your work apart at critique. Not yet has everyone on your college dorm floor made a group chat that includes everyone but you. Not yet do you need to decide which post college job to take. I don’t know if you are straight or gay or bi or rich or happy or depressed or even if you are interested in science. Right now, the only care you have in the entire world is to dance along to the rhythm of a song you don’t even know the words to.

I envy you and long to keep you just this way for as long as I can. I cannot yet even imagine what it might be like to send you, my last born, off in an airplane after Christmas break, back to, what for you, feels like home. I know for me, that you and your brothers and sister are my home, and that for the rest of my life I will be able to close my eyes and see your slim Old Navy underwear hips dancing, joyfully, freely, and with no other purpose than to just be. “And in my hour of darkness [he] is standing right in front of me speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

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