I have these waves of beyond-exhaustion that come and go. Life is not easy at the moment, but it there is much to be grateful. I am bone-tired but also exhilarated; a nearly bottomless fount of creative energy, and a lot of wonderful support from my community. We have our health. Ralph’s job is going well, and the kids are thriving. We’ve got Christmas handled but that said, it’s always a challenge for me to pace myself during such an intense time of the year.
We’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.
The fall is suddenly upon us, and it is indescribably wonderful. I’ve felt this exact autumn in my bones most of my forty-one years and I could recognize it with only a handful of my senses. I remember the last ninety-plus degree day, just a short few weeks ago, and then suddenly the temperature dropped. It is still warm enough, with rich rains, sometimes violent ones. My husband kept watering our sparse tomato plants right up until last week, although I told him there was not enough summer warmth left to coax the green fruits into ripeness.
I have decided a huge amount of conventional wisdom about teenagers is utter bollocks, as they say. Teenagers are not ridiculous or less-than; they do not deserve our smart-aleck comments and eye rolls. They do not warrant our smug and authoritarian parenting. My teens are not rude, entitled, “crazy”, “hormonal”, non-sensical. They are not especially loud or dirty. They are exactly as I would have predicted from my incredibly extensive and intensive experience unschooling them through childhood: they are whip-smart, kind, funny, sensitive, and joyful. They are genuinely interested in other people, not just themselves. They are interested in the whole of life, not just work. They do not have the martyred energy, the passive aggressive forms of communication, the entitled and inflexible attitudes of adults. They respond to criticism or correction with open-mindedness and they change their behaviors if their behaviors are deemed problematic.
If the citizens of this country were anything like my teenagers, the world would be a much better place.
There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
Our dryer broke today but only after I had about eight loads of wet laundry waiting. I search online and find a heating element but in the meantime, we need towels and clean sheets. So at 10 PM I’m sitting on my mother’s couch waiting for a single load to finish; the rest of our wet clothing and linens are bundled into large black garbage bags and rest on her tidy laundry room floor. We always talk about world events and cultural phenomena when I visit with my mother. Tonight I mention the disturbing, disgusting tax breaks our country’s mega-rich receive and my mom interrupts me to angrily hold aloft her popsicle, “Like these! These are half as big as they used to be, and they cost twice as much! It makes me so angry!” I look down at my popsicle – lime flavor, duh! – and I realize, Sonofabitch, this damn thing is smaller. Life’s a bitch.
So life has been busy!! and I’ve had a couple small but significant professional setbacks. I’ve also several medical tests and appointments lately (all of them are coming up perfectly healthy), and I’ve barely been keeping on top of my schedule. Times like this I’m grateful for my volunteer work as no matter what, I set my other stuff aside for that. I think the volunteer commitments keeps me sane and makes sure I’m at least a little productive, in a way that isn’t entirely self-centered or about my own specific concerns.
I’ve been writing and recording, too – and I don’t always make the time to post those updates. So – here you go!
My latest two podcast recordings:
Co-hosting with Tim Turner on The Bitter Bastard Nerdcast; The Last Jedi, Black Panther, Sleepaway Camp, and Gymkata.
Guest casting with Eric Moore on Effectively Speaking, discussing the medusa creature effects in both version of Clash of the Titans.
In writing: last week’s Weekly Roundup on B-movie BFFs: talking about two cheesy 80s action films.
So life is pretty packed, but also fantastic. A few days ago we bought Nels the latest Switch game, and he is focused on dominating the game and honing his proficiency. Beeps is immersed in Splatoon2, tweeting about racial injustice, and drawing fan art on their new tablet.
Family life is incredibly busy, and I’m so grateful for such a creative and healthy foursome here.
We are in for several months of absolutely stunning, perfect weather. We’ve had nothing but sunshine and warmth, and delicious soft rains. The daylight lasts well past nine PM and I’m taken back to my childhood and how much I loved those late twilights. During the blue and white, perfect daylight the life springs from the soil and everywhere the scent of green grass and blooms; the peonies we brought in to fill a vase are startlingly redolent with a heady scent. Everything is in bloom and the hot earth is panting and giving forth greenery. It’s beautiful here; I live by the mountains and by the sea. I may travel but I would have such a difficult time living anywhere else.
My youngest son has become irascible and peevish in this last half a year. I’ve parented long enough to not worry too much, But I don’t ignore those kinds of things either: children need interventions when things aren’t going well, when they are struggling. Tonight I made an offhand comment and he took offense; this is happening with relative frequency of late. He comes in the bedroom and lays down next to me I do not say all the things the adults in my life used to say to me. I don’t tell him he has a bad attitude or he’s snotty or selfish. I do not make condescending remarks about puberty or “teen attitude”. It’s a little damned depressing these thoughts even come to mind but, that’s how I was raised. Still, It is ending with me, I won’t parent that way. I won’t treat mine the way I myself was treated. My son holds me and I put my head on his chest. Both kids’ voices are deepening, and they are getting broader through the shoulders and they are taller than I and although we laugh about it, it puts me off track a bit. Impending old age and death, a ways off perhaps but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.
The older child soon creeps in and I hold him a while too. The two children seek me out several times a day. This is why, exciting as my career is, I can’t and won’t work fulltime as long as there are kids that need this. All kids need this. To think when I was pregnant with my first, I worried I wouldn’t have enough love, wouldn’t have what it takes. Well. I have what it takes. Turns out. What surprises me is that every day I can return to that intention, that not one day goes by I’m on autopilot all day. Sometimes I think parenting taught me mindfulness more than any other practice, or tradition, or lecture, or book.
The windows are open and I can feel the sea air and I can hear the trainyard; a sole candle burns on the dresser. The house is quieting although the younglings stay up late; they too are comforted by the long summer evenings, I think. Children of their mother.
My children and I send one another memes all day long in Discord, and today my youngest forwarded one with an implied (and disrespectful) sexual reference. I was surprised and, as he and I thumbed through our phones next to one another, I mentioned my surprise to him. He was confused at my reference; from his comment I could tell he thought the image meant something entirely innocuous. I let the moment pass and I felt a small moment of gratitude.
Every day my children pass where they are safe, as they grow into adulthood, is a day I cherish.
I have for the first time a large enough set of orders I am setting up a waitlist for my works; In doing this I have been fiddling with my professional website and so it’s down at the moment. I think typically I’d feel irritable and anxious at this hiccup; I can’t afford to at the moment. I get up and work work work until it’s time to be with the family. I get my bike ride and my yoga in. I do my volunteer bit. I eat dinner. I clean up. I spend as much time with Ralph as I can. “It’s boring, but it’s my life”. Except, it’s not boring. It’s busy, and I have to make sure to have some mindful moments, and some play moments.
Beeps has a brand-new tablet we purchased thanks to a tax return and a great deal on Craigslist. The damn thing is so big we’ve given up our dining room table so he can do his work there. It’s lovely to have my child nearby and drawing away, even if they are often dug into headphones, they will still laugh aloud at my jokes or comment on my own music. I instruct Ralph to make twice as much dinner as typical, since the boys get up, fiddle on their phones, and then serve themselves large quantities of leftovers. Growing is hard work!
Tomorrow morning I have a Skype date with a pattern designer on jean fit; I hope to also finish the dungarees on my table before diving back into a crepe dress for a local client. I’ve also got to schedule – besides the waitlist for clients – something I haven’t scheduled myself in a good long while: a break.
Last night at a gathering I turned to one of my sons and I told him that for as long as I lived I hoped we had as close a relationship as we do today. And I add “If you ever want something less, if you don’t want to see me, I intend to respect that.”
People love to hear stories of addiction, as long as they are in the proper format and carry the correct message. The addict must describe the wretched circumstances of active use, at length. We should leave no unsavory detail undisclosed. We must emphasize the severity of our condition, our terrible mishaps and regrettable decisions, so the listener can assure herself that we were really bad, that they themselves do not have a problem. We become in their imaginings a caricature they can pity. Next: we must then perform an attitude of the chastened miscreant. Yes, but also of plucky hero, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. “I can do it! I love myself enough! Go me!” Our role is that of social scapegoat, a tidy morality tale. A fable of debasement and then squeaky-clean self-sufficiency. We satisfy the listener’s need for sentimentality and for Othering; the next thieving addict they see on the street will receive their righteous wrath.
And so it goes.
Wouldn’t it be a lovely fiction, then, if I were to say that it was my children who brought me to sobriety, if I could tell that inspirational story. It might go something like this: that after some horrible mishap or sloppy misadventure, one of my little tots said something especially piquant and I broke down on my kitchen floor, say, and had a cry. Et cetera. I realized I wasn’t doing my best and I decided to kick this thing, to stop drinking. I owe it to them. They need their mother at her best. That sort of thing.
Of course, that wasn’t the story at all. Back then my drinking seemed a minor footnote in a life that was a damned struggle. I remember nothing of note on the morning of my first day sober, especially not some pithy remonstrance from my partner or child. That day was business as usual until it wasn’t, and I got a good (figurative) slap and it took me a few days to even comprehend what had happened.
Because shit doesn’t go down like those Lifetime films, not usually anyway. Life comes at you fast, as they are wont to say. Live long enough and something will kick my ass pretty good and if I’m smart I won’t try to find a way to explain it away or sweep it under the rug.
Lasting sobriety brought me a toughness; more importantly, a clarity. What my children know, today, is that I carry it as my responsibility to sort my mess out. My job not to make excuses. My job to process my feelings with the appropriate parties (who are often not my children). For Christ’s sake, what do we have counselors, and sponsors, and peers, and partners for?
One of my enduring legacies as a mother is that my children can criticize me and they know that I will listen, and I will correct my behavior. This is a disciplined, grounding practice that is precisely easy once one gives into it, once I know I love my practice of mothering more than I love my egoic attachment to Self. This practice delivers me a great deal of self-respect as a parent. I have discovered I cannot “make” my children love or esteem or honor me and that it is inappropriate to try. Maybe most importantly, I do not explain away the hurts I have caused them. I don’t want to ever tell them it was okay that I hurt them. Not then, not today. I don’t want to hurt them and I don’t want to justify it if I do.
Being a mother has been, for me, a tremendous amount of work. I dislike the word “sacrifice” in this context, but I will say that on a daily basis and as the weeks and months and years have passed I have stood in a place and weighed one choice against the other, and if I found it at all possible I made the best choice for my child and I have done this when I didn’t know how I could possibly carry it off. I have done this hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of times. Maybe what has helped the most is to have that moment of footing to commit to something that frightened me, even if it hurled me into grief or was built upon the shakiest premise or if I received considerable adversity from others. Choosing my child over and over and soon it became choosing myself because it was my best self doing the choosing.
I did not know I had it within me to be a wonderful mother, but it has been a significant source of joy to find no small measure of competency in this vocation.