Sunday, July 23, 2017

One of the best

I don't hate weddings …

I have a job to do. And it starts with a mental affirmation.

Think of all the pretty pictures.

Don't even have to close my eyes. … the inspiration is all right in front of me.

A sunlit field. A treeline pond. The most beautiful place for a wedding if ever there was one. And I haven't even mentioned the bride; a natural beauty from all angles even when her face twists into an asymmetric sneer just for laughs.

There was no way to screw this up, short of equipment malfunction or stunning natural disaster.

There I was, cameras in hand and filled with dread, trying to blend into the woodwork.

I don't hate weddings. I just harbor the Charles Bukowski sentiment of happening to "feel better when they're not around."

It's an odd attribute for a so-called wedding photographer to harbor, I'll admit.

If shooting one wedding a year (that I refuse payment for) suffices for the use of that moniker.

I just have to do my thing. Be me. Plod on through the awkwardness of my being.

"Be careful of this one," laughed the father of the bride. "If anyone makes a horrible face, smacks a kid or falls into the water, she'll get the pinnacle moment. Guaranteed."

I am not put off by his jest or the statement. He knows me well enough to know he was opening a door. He'd probably even asked for that imaginary picture to be framed for posterity.

Of course, in that moment, I had to confess to feeling apprehensive. And going through a penance of meaculpas, to I'm not sure what ends. I should have said 'No.' The bride would have been better off with a real photographer. Someone who can control a crowd.

He assured me I am exactly the perfect fit.

I have never been a commanding presence. And weddings -- despite their familiar form -- always need someone at the helm whose skills include taming lions and herding cats.

That's not me. I'm not even skilled at pouring liquids through a funnel.

I can't seem to make the scene in front of me – the 160 guests; a roasted pig; the bathroom on wheels, fancier than any fixture in my house – fit into Just An Ordinary Day.

Behind a lens, however, I have a sense of timing that seems to work in my favor. I don't even understand why or how. It just happens. 

Maybe it's as simple as the difference between looking and seeing.

Which I guess is also the bridge between pomp and circumstance. 

For richer or poorer.

In sickness and health.

As long as we both shall live.

The most meaningful, if not somber moments of the entire event, lifted by a kiss and a DJ spinning "The Best Day of My Life."

And me, clicking away the whole time.

It was a really good day. Maybe one of the best.

That evening as pictures of smiles and glances full of love flash past me, and I funneled them into cyberspace for an optimal viewing experience; I breathed a little easier.


I know why I don't hate weddings. As good as they are, they remind me, the best days are still to come.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Doctor Google School of Medicine dropout



It happened while I was running.

Pain. The kind that makes you ask: is this live or pre-recorded?

It had been manageable in the beginning.
I thought I had even gotten past it after the first mile. The mental milestone of all long runs where will has to work against won't.

Eventually, all the individual parts of you that have been begging to stop fall silent and align with the path ahead. You hope it's the one with least resistance.

Until you feel something more.

Maybe it taps you on second mile or the third?

It has a familiar tug. Like a child's. You divert attention to it for a while and try to ascertain if its needs are urgent.

More often than not, I try to ignore this pain's chirpy insistence and lumber onward.

I hope the tugging will go away or wait its turn if it's not truly an emergency. As a last resort I will send my mind's "healing energy" to the spot that calls.

Sometimes it works.

But not this time.

This time the tugging promised to rage and break me into little bits if I didn't stop. Perhaps it was already too late for fingers-crossed reasoning by that point, I couldn’t be sure.

So I walked -- or limped, as literal accuracy requires – back home.

And then I rested. And rested. And rested. Until I couldn't rest anymore. At which point, I again tried to run.
Now, it was not the unmitigated disaster you might have expected since my ever-so-tentative performance was being enhanced by compression athletic-wear and a small, but mobile, dispensary of OTC anti-inflammatory medication.

But the next week?

It was, as you might imagine, a disaster.

And it never really got better.

But I persisted to believe it was something minor that time and rest would heal.

Still. Not. Better.

How many weeks, now? I've pretended not to count.

Smeared the pencil marks on the calendar and made the dates illegible.

Eventually I start to worry enough to enroll in the Dr. Siobhan M. School of Medicine at Google University.

By noon I had contracted three-quarters of the illnesses that end in "-itis" and every known cancer imaginable.

"You need to see a real doctor," said my daughter, who, at this point in the year, had already graduated from the Meredith Gray School of Medicine at the University at Netflix and was heading into her summer internship with Hank Med.

"But don't panic. The chances of cancer are still very slim. It's likely caused by inflammation from repetitive motion."

Still, I remain unconvinced. She is, after all, 13.
Seriously, try to remain calm.”

"How can you say be calm after that recommendation? EVERY Royal Pain on Gray's Anatomy ALWAYS turns into the worst-case-scenario!"

And in that moment, she smiled and laughed, and channeled her grandmother, who would have already sent me down the straight (if not exactly narrow) path toward professional intervention if she were still with us: "That's just the story arc on TV. You are not going to win the Hollywood lottery. Make yourself an appointment."


Sunday, July 09, 2017

Stealing thunder

The sun lit the horizon like a fuse, burning through to a center of plum-hued pink. The kids were antsy as we drove toward Who-Knows-Where.

They didn't -- for good reason -- believe Who-Knows was a real place. It's not like Stratford-on-Avon or Castleton-on-Hudson, which they've seen in travel magazines and during construction detours. They were just going along.

My imaginary hyphenate held the promise of fireworks, and that's all that usually matters to anyone enriched with time and a tank full of fossil fuel after sunset on July 4th.

The children probably would have appreciated the splendor of Albany's display. They might have even enjoyed the crowds.

Of course, I could be wrong on that last count.

My children's enthusiasm dampened for things that light up and explode one summer night four years ago amid a crowd of chain-smoking tipplers who by10 p.m. were all toppling over.

The scene frightened them enough to forgo public displays of pyrotechnics as if the razzle-dazzle only released rattle snakes into the air.

This year, emboldened by friends, we thought we'd try an adventure. Suss out the sizzle we'd heard happens annually at a nearby farm. We were told: Just park along the lane, pitch a few dollars into a collection plate and, you'll see celestial skyrockets until the cows come home.

Literally.

But, as our luck would have it, the firework extravaganza was a thing of yesterday. And our rumor-monger informants had missed it, too.

Cue disappointed release bated breath.

So we did what all parents (who would rather have a root canal than traverse the seat of government looking for safe, yet percussive, patriotic explosives) are wont to do in this very situation:

We piled back into the car and started heading in the direction of water. We were on the lookout for small ponds, mid-sixes lakes, large puddles in front of new developments heretofore unencumbered by old-growth shade trees. Anywhere our sense of stereotype might pin DIY fireworks as a major part the evening's entertainment.

"I feel like a creeper," said my daughter, her voice somewhere between guilt and excitement. The earsplitting squeal she let out the moment a tiny pop of sparkle ignited above.

"THAT WAY!!! GO THAT WAY! GO GO GO!"

Off we went. Toward the lake houses, piled one on top of another, divided by narrow streets.

"You might try the turn-around at the end of the road," said a man who didn't want us to park near his gate. Not that we asked with actual words but I'm sure he could see the desire to park in our eyes as he pointed that-a-way ... "There's a cove down there ... it's pretty wide open."

We the cove much as he had described: A clearing bordering the lake's east-side elbow. Although it was open and inviting, the location obscured any view of the boats that had assembled along the western shores.

We could hear fireworks but we couldn't see them.

I tried to pretend; saying "Oooooh" and "ahhhhh" has the pops sprinkled the air. Described the sights I had seen (or wish to have seen) in my youth.

"Where are you looking?" exclaimed my exasperated son, who stopped himself from throwing a can of bug spray at me when I fessed up to fibbing.

"You are killing me!"

We got back into the car.

Windows open, radio off, we cruised along listening for bursts of manufactured thunder and  looking for cracks of chemical lightning.

"I think I see something," my daughter hollered. "Take a right."

We saw it, too.

We pulled off to the side of a long county road, inched up to a scrawny tree, and, giving the impression that we were trying to hide our gargantuan vehicle behind the sapling for cover, we turned off the engine and scrunched down in our seats.

No one was fooled.

The shooting lights that had erupted from the lawn party, to which we hadn't been invited, suddenly ceased and desisted.

We gave up and crept onward.

Over hill and dale, down one dark road after another we searched.

Nothing. ... And just as we were about to give up, the air above us exploded into red and purple sparks.

Everyone screamed. We pulled the car over and got out. Standing at the edge of knee-high corn and looking toward a driveway lined with angled pipes, we waited and bounced.

And the tell-tale whistles revved up.

One by one, fast and furious, the hits kept coming. Twirling, dancing undulating lights cracking into loud booms overhead and lighting up the sky. The girls screamed, the boys silently orchestrated with an imaginary baton.

When it was all over, we gave rounds of enthusiastic but apologetic applause. And our accidental hosts replied in kind with the ultimate sign of forgiveness:

"See ya next year."

We may have been stealing thunder, but we certainly hit the mother lode.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

In the swim


For a quarter of an hour or so, he adjusts his swimming gear until the fit nears perfection. His suit, mask, flippers, towel ready and arranged just so.

Swimming is serious business. It requires attention to all manner of details.

A smear of sunscreen across his neck leads my eye to the small patches of greasy foam visible on his arms. Since he's a do-it-himself kinda guy, I fully expected the shot-glass-full amount all the morning shows preach (for efficacy's sake) to be spattered all over the floor. Even so, he refuses to rub the stuff into his skin. This is fine, he tells me, as his swim shirt is the only real protection he needs.

He fights with his swim trunks trying to turn the pockets wrong-side inward. All pockets should be this way, he contends, lest he loses the stuff he's collected on the way to the beach. Fashion aside, there is no "right side out" when it comes to pockets. Mostly he ignores this social rule until he finds the smoothest shell or the flattest skipping stone.

He doesn't wonder why pockets exist in swimwear until he has to empty them into my bag before he ventures into the water.

He's already wrestled on a swim mask - tight over the head, extracting the fringe of his hair, piece by piece.

One errant lock and the protective bubble will pop, sending water cascading into his eyes and up his nose.

The process is arduous. Though not as arduous as it was before my son found a way to swim underwater without a full-body submersible.

Back then a single drop of water plopping onto his face was enough to make him sputter and claim to be "drowndeding."

And whoever was nearby at the time of the dousing got all the blame, deserved or not.

Mostly his contempt was well placed.

I still remember the moment one swim instructor nonchalantly dropped him off a diving board into the waiting arms of another ... before he said: "I'm ready."

It was the cardinal sin of all swim lessons sins and a sin which most parents thought had been abandoned during the sea change of a new millennia wherein no one in their right mind would advocate for simulated drowning as a teaching device.

She may not have known he was never going to be ready.

I knew.

And as I watched him sputter to the surface, screaming an incoherent recrimination to his now-chagrined looking torturer, I knew without a doubt that it would be a full year at least before he'd even step into a puddle again.

I knew swim class was over. For a long, long while.

He might not have forgiven her, nor me until I broke down and charged the cost of a toy-store mask and swim fins to my credit card.

Twelve dollars later, and with enough guilt ammunition to defy the printed No-Swim-Goggle rules, we returned to the pool.

Looking pinched and frog-like, he stepped back into the swim of things.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tenthiversary

He came bounding into my room, his mouth all foamy at its edges. A million light-years from sleep if I were to gauge drift-off by the thrust of his energy.

“I brushed my teeth. I changed into PJs. I'm ready for bed,” he said with rapid-fire excitement. “Come tuck me in.”

It melts my heart that he still needs me to shoo away the monsters, as well as remove all the litter and laundry that pile up in his room.

On any other night, he'd be taking his time, dragging his feet. Pleading with me for just a few minutes more with whatever he was doing.

But when he wakes up tomorrow he will be ten. He knows sleep cuts through the lag between now and then.

“I don't want you to grow any older,” I tell the boy as I sit by his bed, carefully ducking my chin so as not to hit my head on the top bunk.

He smiled at me as if I were kidding.

I was dead serious.

Scratch that. “Dead” is not the word I wanted to land on for this sentiment.

*Searches for a term that doesn't joke about mortality but imparts all the anxiety of a mother in an uncertain world, who worries that we are all just pinballs in some elevated tin-can of an arcade game.

*Shrugs shoulders.

Anxiety is a terrible thing. It's a frenetic heartbeat that races around in our minds causing all kinds of havoc. Many mothers aptly describe the feeling as if these babies entered the world and dragged our hearts out with them.

My thoughts race and collide as he drags the covers up to his chin, and finds his most comfortable position in which to rest:

I want him to grow up.
And willingly get in the shower without me having to ask a dozen times.
I want him to clean his own room.
And do his own laundry.
And finish high school.
And college.
And not be drafted.
Or killed in a war we can't win.
I want him to know real love. I want him to find it everywhere. Especially inside himself.
I want him to know he has choices and that others do, too.
I want him to grow old with someone he admires.
I don't care if he's a doctor as long as he can see one when he's sick, even if just for reassurance.
I hope he's not a hypochondriac like me.
But I want him to be sensitive. To remember he's not alone among strangers.
I want him to care about whether his neighbors are hungry, or cold, or hurting.
I want him to mow a little more than his lawn, just to help out.
I want whatever he has to be more than enough.
I want his heart to live outside of his body, too.

But I can't say any of that to him. I can only give my son a hug, which he gives me right back.


And then he thanked me for changing his sheets, which -- I'll be honest – had accumulated at least a cup-full of playground sand and who-knows-what-all-else since the last time I'd risked a traumatic head injury to strip them from his bunk bed.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pep talk


I hate sports.

Kids' sports, especially.

Sorry. I know it's not a popular sentiment, nor a particularly fair one at that.

I wish I could just walk it off.

It's not any one thing. … The time ... The expense ... The constant battle against rage and emotive outbursts from just about everyone.

Kids.

Parents.

Coaches.

I hate pep talks most of all, which is what was going through my mind as I read the coach's email, reminding parents to tell our kids “they were just as good as, if not better than, the team that defeated them” a mere moment ago.

He didn't want to hear the words “we can't win, they're too good” come out of their mouths. All they need to do was bring their “A Game.”

He explained, if we are to do well in the tournament, this was the price parents had to chip in. And then he used the word “nemesis” in describing the opposing team of 10-year-old boys, whose friendships all intertwine.

He said nothing about the dirt-kicking or trash-talking that came from our side of the field.

He remembered to say “have fun,” which I imagine most people assume will absolve them of all other impure thoughts about “playing hard.”

I have impure thoughts.

I want to snark and send back a reply, reminding him that most of the kids not having fun appeared to be coaches kids. And kids who sat on the bench. Or kids who missed a play. Or hit a handily-caught pop fly. Or otherwise messed up, only to have his team turn on him with a string of "you shouldas."

But who am I?

Even if their team won, 10-year-olds weren't going to be happy with their individual lackluster performances. Or their teammates, it seemed. Winning isn't everything, as the old saying goes. On these occasions, it seems to be the only thing.

I don't intervene.

I don't complain to the coach or other parents. I know they are holding their breath, too. We are all trying to keep ourselves from crossing the line between support and suppression. It seems wrong to cheer the play at second. Someone caught the ball. The other someone got tagged out.

I try not to make noise, or sigh too loudly, as I know my natural stress release can stress people out. I don't always succeed.

It's probably a prejudice of mine born out of sour-grapes and a lifetime of bench-sitting and sore-loser status. But I just can't shake off the notion that 10-year-olds seeking a “competitive edge” are playing with knives. It's all fun and games until someone gets cut. And someone always gets cut.

That's life,” you say as you blame me for the emergence of participation awards.

Not really,” I retaliate as I blame you for year-round travel teams and sucking the life out of recreational games.

Eventually, we must face the truth.

My kid is never going to play professional baseball. (I erased the word “probably” from that sentence to eradicate any shred of expectancy, even slight.) And neither will yours.


But my kid will meet his “nemesis” at school tomorrow on the playground. And if he's learned anything about the value of sport, he will congratulate his friend for playing a great game. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A hot mess

He usually leaves this place a hot mess, my whirling dervish of a boy.

His face is reddened by exertion. His hair plastered upward into a look made possible by the automatic motion of preening and the natural pomade of perspiration. His white uniform and blue belt are almost as disheveled. But he is happy.

This is martial arts.

Twice a week, for four years, we've come to his humid gym so he might kick and punch his way toward a rainbow of belts.

As he moves through the “forms,” as they are known, he breaths out an audible current of air. There is a calm fluidity to the sequence that allows a moment of tranquility before it is ultimately broken with an ear-splitting yell called a K'ihap.

A K'ihap sounds nothing like Hiayah!

Lately, though, he's not been happy.

Transitions from school to home and from home to lessons haven't been as fluid. I brushed it off as a normal phase.

Sparring, a key ingredient of this particular discipline has packed too much spice for his taste. Also a common complaint.

The kicks have come at him harder, the punches more forceful. He wears his mad face more and more before and after class.

He never wants to talk about it.

Until one days he doesn't stop talking:

"This isn't fun anymore," he says one day after class. "I don't like getting hit."

Of course, I don't fully understand. My offer to skip those particular lessons is met with incredulity.

It's part of a process I hadn't fully processed during all those years I had perched on a folding chair, watching my phone, on the sidelines.

He knows without sparring he won't progress, and if you don't progress you just stagnate.

My mind runs through the Parent Ponders checklist:

What happened?

Is he angling for more screen time?

Will he regret coming all this way and giving up?

Do quitters never win?

I make him speak with his teacher.

It is the difficult thing to do. And something I think is necessary.

And all goes well until he cries and agrees to keep trying.

"Give it one more month," we all agree.

At least, that's what I THINK we've decided to do as my red-eyed, puffy-nosed boy sat quietly in the back of the car.

Until the following week.

When he just broke out in tears when I handed him his uniform and gave my usual 10-minute warning.

"I just want to be done. I don't want to do martial arts anymore. ... I want to do other things: I want to go to the playground after school. I want to play flag football. I want to learn to play the trumpet next year in school. I don't want to be a punching bag."

I wonder if tag-teaming with his teacher was the best thing?

He agreed to continue only because he was the smallest person in the room, and everyone knows the smallest people don't usually win in a fight. 

Fighting our own battles, we tend to agree, builds character.

And what about commitment? 

Does following through to the end mean committing to unhappiness?

If it does, it seems to me, that in itself unhappiness is a means to an ending of another sort.


And so, I agree. It's time to try something new.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

There are no small parts

Serenity was in the air.

Birds were singing. The sun was shining. Emerging from a week-long viral torpor, my husband had slunk downstairs and was making coffee Neither child was trading barbs with the other over which spoon was "theirs" in the favorite-occupier sense.The dog and cats were getting along. And even though I hadn't gotten out of bed to see which part of my body ached the most, I could tell all was right with the world. At least for the moment, and within my seven-acre slice of it.

I have listed my goals on my cortex in the indelible ink of magical thinking:

Today I will mow the lawn.

And then I will rake the hay the mower leaves behind.

I will weed the garden and dig up the grassy bits around the trees.

I will find a place to dump the organic remains.

Maybe I will mulch if the mood strikes. Who knows?

This will take the entire day, I think to myself without concern. The imaginary ink dries glittery.

I take a deep breath and a sip of hot coffee. There is still time to be slothful.

There's nothing else to do. I can take breaks. Drink coffee. Go on walks. I will stop to watch the kids go back and forth to the park now that they are older and not tethered to such a tight leash.

I will move at a glacial pace ... Which, let's be honest, is considerably faster than it once seemed.

But I won't worry about that now. I've silenced my phone, tuned out Twitter and Facebook, and all the other things that pull my attention in opposite directions.

The little folks will still bring their problems my way. But I will just smile and nod, and leave my contributions to commiseration. I won't offer any plans they could execute.

If nothing else, I have learned there is little to be gained from telling folks all the things clanging around in my mind.

"You would have been perfect for the starring role," I tell my disappointed thespian, it's probably true and it's what she want's to hear. "There are no small parts."

"Yes. You can cover your sister's bedroom doorframe in cellophane as a prank. But before you do, could you just turn on the spigot to the garden hose? Thanks."

The day ebbs and flows this way for hours, and when the work parts end, it feels like an immeasurable accomplishment. Literally. The yard isn't transformed, but my work there is done. I've handily ticked off the boxes on my to-do.

I am content if not happy.

By way of payment, I treat myself to an indulgence.

I accept an invitation and go to see the new laundry room a friend has just completed in her house.

I take the kids with me. They will chat with my friend's children as we ignore them, and she will show me the tiny space that has transfixed her life at this moment.

"Don't get too excited," she tells me with a laugh.

But I will marvel at tidy space with its sleek new appliances, and I will gush over the handy shelving and fresh paint. I won't wonder aloud how she will reach the top shelf. I will just be happy for her.

But I will be excited.

And I will laugh when my daughter puts it all in bittersweet perspective:

“So what I've gathered from this is that when I grow up, I can expect to be excited about a new laundry room?”

And all I can think is … “If you are lucky … you will be happy about everything.


“There are no small parts.”

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Spin doctor


“Did you know if someone turns red they might have Scarlet Fever? We read about it in class. The boy in the Velveteen Rabbit turned red, and they said he had Scarlet Fever. They had to burn everything in his room. It was sad.”

My son is a font of tragicomic wisdom.

I tell him to wash his hands before dinner.

“Did you know a girl was dragged into the water by a sea lion? The news said it was the quick thinking of a man nearby that saved her, but I think she was just lucky the sea lion didn't swim off with her. It was scary.”

“Set the table, please.”

“Did you know that tops were probably the first fidget spinner? They date back to infinity. Maybe even beyond. I think Buzz Lightyear said that.”

“Napkins?”

“Sam's going to sell me his fidget spinner for a dollar,” my son getting to his main point as I was plating dinner. “Did you know that fidget spinners have probably been around for decades. His fidget spinner isn't that old, though. It came from Five Below last week.”

He really is a spin doctor.

Fidget Spinners – in case you don't have a 9-year-old boy of your own -- are these rotating toys that dropped into a few YouTube videos in late March and somehow materialized in the pockets of elementary schoolers everywhere by the beginning of May.

The spinners most often consist of three rotary bearings set into plastic, metal or ceramic cases that, when pinched between one's thumb and forefinger, can spin forEVER™.

They are billed as “stress relievers” and good for kids with attention deficits, though no studies have been proffered to bolster such claims. And of course, they have become collectable, running between a few bucks to a few hundred bucks.

Not that I want to be a naysayer.

Even I – the great and powerful user of the word “NO!” – have to admit the sensation of having a virtually silent and perfectly balanced rotating gizmo circling atop my fingertip was an unexpectedly satisfying experience.

“He didn't want it.”

“Who?”

“Sam! The kid I was telling you about with the fidget spinner from Five Below.

“It had a wonky bearing or something, and it didn't spin for more than a minute. Sam said he had others that were better so he'd sell me the wonky one for a dollar. I think I can fix it. It's probably just an unbalanced bearing or an ill-fitting finger pad. I could probably strip it down and rebuild it from scratch.”

Honestly … I was just staring at his lips by this point.

None of it made sense to me.

Almost as if he were speaking in tongues.

How long could this last? How soon until these spinney toys go the way of Zhu Zhu Pets and Silly Bandz and Bakugans?
“What?”

“Even if I can't fix it, it would be worth it to customize. I could take the bearings out and marbleize it by running it through a bath of water and spray-paint.”

I don't like where this is going.

“You are not spray-painting my bathtub.”

“Hey! I wouldn't do that. … But I would clean the tub for the bargain price of $4. … I'd even throw in the sink for an extra fifty cents. I found an Anti-Spinner on Amazon.”

Wait?

Anti-Spinner?

“That sounds like this spin cycle's already at its end point.”


“No. It's just marketed that way. It's just got a different rotation.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A million reasons

I'm the woman who opens her mouth and inserts foot ... up to her kneecap. I'm so fervent I'm strident. 

You know people like me. We have opinions.

Our opinions have opinions.

And our opinions are not always right.

Not that we’d necessarily agree with your assessment on that particular point.

But you know me.

I haven’t thought that far ahead. My thoughts are on constant churn, macerating with some little tidbit of something.

Incomplete.

I'm the lady complaining about how terrible coaches are ... to a coach. How scary religions are to the devout. How awful healthcare is to the doctor. Mine is the voice you hear from across a crowded room, saying whatever tone deaf thing that should probably have been left unsaid.

This lack of forethought isn't a new phenomenon.

Ever since I was a teen, I've been telling it as I see it. Somewhere between the dark side of the ashram and the upside of utopia. Of course, I know that not everyone sees the world through the same puce-colored lenses I do. Of course I know all about projecting. Of course.

But ... Maybe I can persuade some...

The hope of persuasion is some intoxicating gas, isn't it?

Hope is what saves us.

But I’m not usually able to persuade.

Often, a person will smile politely and immediately remember an urgent matter they have neglected to attend.

A few yards away.

I don't blame them.

We are, after all, adults. We can be adept at displaying some form of civility, either genuine or otherwise.

Of course, I'll regret saying whatever it was I just said.

I'll try to backtrack. Or apologize. I'll startle awake in the middle of the night with the memory, still fresh and vivid, though it may be years later.

You'd think I'd learn.

Or at least adapt.

Honestly, I don't believe I'm unique.

Most of us say things we wish we hadn't.

Most of us come across in some way we hadn't intended.

We make mistakes that seem huge and unfixable.

And some of us will pay a price that isn't at all justified.

Honestly, I mostly feel lucky.

These are the things that passed through my mind as I watched the Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher's novel about teen suicide, "Thirteen Reasons Why."

My daughter, you see, started watching the series without me.

She had viewed two episodes before deciding, on her own, it wasn't something she was ready to handle.

Once I tuned in, I could understand why.

The title was a misnomer: there wasn't just an odd number of reasons that had gone undetected. The list seemed an infinite distraction. The real cause went beyond bullying. It settled in the place between criminal law and mental health. Where the system we've created seems to fail just about everyone who can't "just move past it."

I have to admit; I think we adults can learn a lot from 13 Reasons.


Perhaps the most important of which is to accept that we can't ever know all there is to know, and our answers are not always correct. Our best hope is to stop talking and to start listening.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A mother's garden

It was Mother's Day, and I was in the garden.

Alone.

To the casual passerby, I was a just a woman of a certain age, enjoying a quiet moment on a warm spring day, taking the time to indulge in a much beloved suburban hobby. ...

Wearing a "Rage Against The Machine" t-shirt.

Killing [weeds] in the name of ... 

It wasn't my finest moment.

I hate gardening.

And I hadn't intended on spending the day alone.

Truth be told, I had had the mother of all meltdowns, and the only thing l could think to do when nature met nurture in this head-on collision of emotional upheaval was to place myself in exile.

And by way of atonement, I would do the thing I hated most.

Gardening.

There I was, out near the road, tending a strip of curated nature I never wanted but knew would grow wild without me.

Tears stung my eyes as I dug out thistles with my bare hands.

The sporadic successes I've had raising plants hasn't been enough reward for the indignities of pulling weeds in full view of the world as its traffic roars past.

Is this motherhood?

Sometimes, I suppose, it is.

I know it doesn't pay to wallow in its indignities. They could be as fleeting as our children's childhoods if we just let them go on without us.

I know the pain I feel at this moment has little to do with being a mother, though. And everything to do with being someone's child.

Mother's Day – the switch hitter's card holiday – ready to give everyone a wallop. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, male or female, parent or not.

That's the garden, too.

A strip of space, bursting with white flowers. The colors will change as spring moves into summer and summer moves into fall. I won't remember everything we planted. The colors will surprise me, or they will remind me of my regrets.

What was I thinking … putting orange flowers there?

I didn't put them there. That will be my answer. These blooms were a gift, planted by a child on one of these annual Sundays during the past dozen years.

As I look around, I notice the rhythm of this garden has no symmetry. No color scheme. No discernible pattern. It is imperfect. Like me. This patch of earth may as well be my fingerprint.

And then I realize something unsettling: The only things I have ever had a keen eye for in this place have been the weeds.

Gardening in anger does that to a person. Focused on the weeds, we only see the flaws.

In the struggle for achieving rich, earthy spaces between the peonies, I lose sight of the whole. I can't enjoy the flowers when the greenery steps out of line.

Nature always has other ideas.

It occurs to me then that this patch of hell has grown on me.

As I mourn the loss of the showy poppies and the dinner plate dahlias I can't revive, I marvel at the Dusty Miller, an annual that, in my garden, has become perennial through sheer force of will.


This is motherhood, too.