My Date

as simple and sweet as a blade of grass

My Date
My son tells me he may have a girlfriend; a young lady from Canada he met on a Minecraft server he frequents. The two of them chat all day long in a Discord channel and are just beginning to exchange photographs. He has mentioned this young lass a few times over the last week and during this time I slowly came to attention, realizing this is a very important milestone in his life. He’s had many girls interested in him in the past, since he was very little. This is the first relationship that has been reciprocal, although of course it is a very sweet and very simple one so far.

My children’s relationships with romantic partners I can chalk up to good parenting, or at least decent enough parenting. My experience was decidedly less wholesome. By the time I was thirteen I’d had boys at me, and spent far too much unsupervised time with a few of them (thanks to public school and semi-neglectful Baby Boomer parenting). My bisexuality quickly became a tidily kept secret after humiliating and scathing accusations; also, too, meanspirited shrieks of “dyke!” as I embraced a beau in the hallway. Into the closet I went! Safer (so I thought, incorrectly as it turned out) to stick with boys. Unfortunately the boys I found had horrible idea about girls.

You know the story. Unutterably wearying to me, today.

I count it as a success that Phoenix’s first beau is still friends with the family – friends with Phoenix but also with me! – and is the sweetest young man. Phee’s second beau came from a stricter family so we saw her far less, and haven’t seen her since we stopped having meetups at the rural school she attends. The last two years have been awkward as Phoenix attempts to avoid attention from the students in their college classes – all too old (another example of an intelligent boundary held by my progeny). Phoenix, like Nels, has several deep (and occasionally romantic or at least not entirely platonic) friendships online. Another difference from my own upbringing. The internet wasn’t a thing then! Hard to comprehend.

Parenting teenagers takes more finesse than parenting young ones. Parenting young ones is like molding hot clay in the hand; teenagers, like folding an origami boat for turbulent waters. Only a little here and there to be done, but with great care indeed, pressing the creases and then setting this delicate craft on turbulent waters. All that work you put in when they were younger, it comes to pay off – or comes to plague you – and if you are intelligent you will simply recognize this and back up just a half a step, ready to help when asked and hoping your child comes to you from their best self, not from a desire to please you or to receive approval.

It snows again; I sew up a little linen dress. I cut the exact and pleasing curved shapes for swimwear, in a severe black and white 30s style geometric print. I come upstairs for more coffee during the day, as much to warm my hands as anything else. My oldest tosses themselves across my lap and asks for me to stroke their hair; anytime I sit down it is a child, or a cat – and occasionally a husband – who lays across my body and asks for attention.

41

sitting backstage / someone’s plus one

41
In a few hours I turn 41. Of note: my mother brought me over a large floral arrangement today, along with a deep chocolate cake and three small houseplants each set in a simple copper tureen. Ralph and the children have been out on secret errands, happily procuring gifts. I am grateful to be loved so dearly by my little family.

I’ve spent the last two days practicing yoga, caring for family errands, volunteering, and doing those little business admin bits like invoicing and recording receipts and ordering and collating patterns. It is cold – cold in my studio, cold outside. Emerging from the bedroom this morning I find my husband stepping inside after the dog’s morning walk; Ralph is so cold he looks almost shocked. I pour him hot coffee and convince him to come to bed, where I hold him close. I steel myself as he slides his cold hands up my shirt, against the smooth skin over my ribs. The only one who’s touched me like this for two decades.

I’ve tried to stop judging myself how much it hurts my children are growing, are so independent. Every day they seek me out and hold me, and I am grateful for that. Every day they share with me. They can even be coerced to go on errands and I can always buy them a tea latte or lunch. What may be less obvious to my readers, unless you’ve been with me a long time indeed, is that at one time and for many years their company, their needs and laughter and tears and their words and smells and their hair against my cheek, always the sweetest straw-smelling against my skin, this was my world for fifteen plus years and even though things are as they should be I am bereft. For Ralph life is much as before; he’s had their lifetime away at his job, to come home in the evenings. For the children they have the security of their parents, as they rush off and bury themselves in work and play of their own.

All my life I remember people pityingly speaking of women who were too invested in their children, as if this were some mark of a pathetic, cramped nature, of an unimaginative woman to allow such a thing. One secret I have discovered: you can have a full life, you can have all these interests and a gorgeous career and a wonderful marriage and good friends and a meaningful avocation and a spiritual walk and a self-care regimen: and it can still hurt so damn much when your kids grow up.

 

 

mint, turmeric, saffron, cardamon, ginger, garlic…

Today when I wake I know I’m going to do my yoga, drink my coffee. Hem a linen dress with a blind stitch. Press the dress and hang it up, to deliver to a client in a couple days. Wait for my children to wake and then take them out to pizza.

It’s my oldest’s sixteenth birthday.

In the evening we travel to an event, the LGBTQ+ safe space, a crafting night. I bring embroidery supplies and work on a small project. Many other young people are there. Beeps doesn’t always fit in; they are friendly, intelligent, and well-spoken but they have a preternatural calm and a presence that others find intimidating. I am not nearly as calm as Beeps but I know what it’s like to be considered intimidating. People assume you don’t need the kind of care, the kind of asking-after. They assume you don’t need them to walk over and say Hello.

But someone does walk over and sit with us and we do handwork and we talk. I am embroidering a little goth skull for a friend in Tennessee. Deep deep deep purple, and a silvery-blue, and a lavender. Cotton floss.

And when I get home I will be making chick’n biryani, because I know (even though I haven’t made it before), it will be loved by my children. Earlier in the day I spent the last 19 dollars to my name this week on the supplies – well 12 dollars on the vegetables and herbs as I had to spend seven on medicine for my mother, who called from her house and asked. I have gas in my car and dried beans and rice at home and a day or two to hopefully get paid by a client and so I’m cheerful enough.

Home and my partner has chopped up the herbs and spices and peeled the potatoes. This is what I love – alchemy, he and I together. I have the confidence the dish will taste perfect – and it does.

My children lay on me when they can – on the couch, in my bed before I sleep. They still need so much attention; they still crave touch. It can be comedic; if either child sees Ralph and I embrace, they move into the middle. They’ve done this since they were very little and they do it now. I am pleased because I am a special person in their hearts; they also need these kinds of things from their father but from no one else, do they trust like this. I am so glad every day we get to earn their trust again, and again.

We have a special birthday cake and a few gifts, lined up for Sunday when my mother comes over. I ordered a cake in a cheerful blue; I will make another special meal. Another trip around the sun, for my glorious firstborn!

it’s not a sprint, it’s a sojourn

My children are teens now and as I could have expected, this stage in our lives is absolutely as wonderful and dynamic as every stage before. The oldest child is the most mercurial of the family at the moment, swinging from open hostility when things are not going well, to a very intense emotional and physical desire to be close – to me. The intensity sometimes means that, instead of getting my own work done during the afternoon, I instead sit on the couch to watch something silly, or hold my child in my arms, or take them out for lunch. This desire to be close, it astonishes me at how intense and everyday it is.

Once I got my bearings it became very easy (well, most of the time!) to parent appropriately. When the child is angry and hostile, I leave the child alone (except for some overtures – asking if they want me to make them tea, that sort of thing). When they are needing intense physical comfort and time together, I have been putting aside what I can to provide this.

My younger child is going through something similar. Surprisingly he is curt and rude at times, new behaviors, but I can adjust. However after an outburst he is quick to come back and apologize, something my oldest either cannot or will not try except on rare occasions. My younger child is more frustrated with my limitations and shortcomings, or at least is more vocal about them, than anyone else in the family. For New Years he suggested as a resolution – politely of course – that I put away my phone more often. He has been criticizing me of late I do not cuddle him enough, and I am not a good enough listener.

We drove to Beeps’ college course the other night as a family; Ralph and Phoenix went in for class, Nels and I ran arond the town and had the most amazing night out together, getting dinner and coffee. On the lines of what I write about above, it wasn’t an easy night on this car trip from Aberdeen to Olympia. Phoenix was unhappy and did not respond to careful overtures. I remembered my own upbringing where my parents would have sharp words about my “attitude”. I let those memories wash over and pass, and I didn’t have to act on them. I wasn’t thinking about it much but hours later when I pulled the car around to pick my child up, even in the streetlamp I could see my oldest child’s strong, elvish features crease into recognition, gladness at seeing me. I realized that I am a drumbeat in this child’s life and every day I parent with gentleness and mindfulness is a day that opens my child’s future into something unimaginably wonderful.

Änderungen

Yesterday my eldest child had their first shot of testosterone, administered by a long needle with a physician’s expertise. In two weeks we’ll return and I will watch my child learn to do this by themselves.

I am not nearly as nervous about testosterone as I was even a year ago, when I had just started educating myself more seriously about being a parent to a trans child. In some ways those early days were a little dream-like; I have a very close friend who is trans and had cheerfully thought that would be my most intimate experience – and I was grateful to be included in her life, and in her journey. When Beeps came out about thirteen months ago I am sad to say I did not realize just how much this would change our lives. It hasn’t all gone as expected, at all. We’ve had disappointments (unsupportive family with poor behaviors), elation (supportive family with awesome behaviors), a lot of great support (thank Jeebus for the internetz), and a huge learning curve. To this day, as much as I’ve read and studied, I haven’t seen anyone as eloquent, well-educated, and kind as my own child on the topic of gender issues. There’s a career in it for them if they so choose.

This child has been noticeably happier since the week dawned when they’d get their first shot; time will tell, but of course as has been my experience these sixteen years of parenting, it really is okay to trust our children. Watching my child bloom into joy, (more) affection, and a great deal more playfulness, has been both wonderful and a bit sobering. It is so easy, when a child is “well-behaved” intelligent, and (seems to be) doing so well, to ignore things rather than pay them heed. Important things.

I forgot to tell you but I am determined, by the way, on a new New Year resolution: to stop criticizing myself. It might seem entirely silly or perhaps even a vague or even unattainable goal but I absolutely know it’s important, and it’s possible. I have been practicing simply moving away from those thoughts that are repetitive criticism (or even obsessive criticism), simply stopping them. This is, I am surprised to find, entirely possible to do. Not that many years ago, I couldn’t have succeeded, and sadly I doubt I would have had an awareness of how self-critical I was. I am finding compassion to be as much a daily, nuanced, complex and fruitful practice as my daily yoga. This gives me a tremendous sense of optimism and gladness – joy, even.

Ralph and Beeps are in their last quarter of German together; “Du hast Hausaufgaben?” my husband asks our child, from the hallway through bathroom door. For their part, Phoenix has been tutoring me a bit. Today while they swept the kitchen floor they sat me down and lectured me on numbers, and how to count according to the German language. I laughed and repeated the word for “fifty-five” several times and Phoenix praised my pronunciation and my handle on their numeric system, although I felt I barely had a grasp on it all.

Also: happy vegan anniversary to me (yesterday)! 

A wonderful, rich life, if the rain still pisses down and all that. Hell, it’s January. We got a ways to go.

I have stopped saying I was consumed, I have been saying “I was almost consumed”

With an absolute force of will, I remove a slice of pizza from the wrapped parcel, and place it on the cutting board. This will be the first meal I’ve had in about thirty six hours. For the last several hours the thought I should eat, was met with a rising nausea as well as awareness of my aching body: my entire abdomen a turgid, throbbing knot of pain.

My mind is being pulled into two different worlds, and the pain of this is excruciating. It hurts my head; it hurts my body.

In one world, I am a success. My life is a success. My partner and I have raised two wonderful children to teenagehood; they are both doing extraordinarily well despite trials and a few extraordinary circumstances. In this world I am creative, and kind. In this world I am learning to be kinder, and (slowly) trying to be stronger. In this world, I am strong enough to rise to a challenge. I am fierce. I would do anything possible to protect my children and protect my marriage – I would rise to any calamity. I have been a faithful and loving wife, giving every ounce of my passion and loyalty to a man who is the best I’ve met. I have withstood enormous pressures: the trail of abuse and dysfunction as a child, of more abuse in my early adulthood. The devastation of addiction. Sexual abuse. For years: denial. Then fear, anger, sadness. Some forgiveness, this tiny teacup-full. In this world, I have committed to a high standard of behavior for myself. I commit to this standard, fail, and try again and I move on. In this world, I am taking care of my lovely home. I am developing my career, while caring for my family and friends.

In this world, I stand in the kitchen and prepare a breakfast for my child before I take them to campus. They are graduating college at 16; I have helped them just the right amount. In this world, I parcel my focus to all these things – my husband, each child. My home, my career. My husband’s career. My recovery. My friends, my faith tradition. I put together the list of things I hope to do, to take care of the people I need to. In this world, on a daily basis, I do not neglect my responsibilities.

In this world I am a strong and loving person, but really: just a human being. I am a beautiful, loved, human being who helps make the world a better place.

This is a wonderful world and I have spent many days there.

But there is another world, too.

In this other world, I have failed utterly. My career is a joke; it can and will take too much of my focus to be a serious thing to commit to. In this world, my husband is deeply dissatisfied with me, and it is only a matter of time before he leaves. Every plan I’ve made and every thing I’ve cared for, is utter trash – not because the goals and the lovely things I care about are not wonderful – they are the most wonderful things on earth! – but because I could not possibly have been expected to succeed. In this world, my shitty childhood, the sexual abuse I endured, the terrorizing I endured, and my drinking: those things won after all. In the end, I was not strong enough to do any good; tread water though I tried.

In this world, no matter the kind words and tender acts of care I give my husband and children, it is too little and too late. There have been too many misbehaviors on my part. There have been too many times I was torn in two and could not focus. I could not check in. There have been too many hours – hours that have swelled into weeks or months or years in the aggregate – where I was attempting to escape. And even though it is understandable a person would do this, and we nod with empathy and say, “Oh that is so sad, but don’t you see why you did it?” in the end after all, I will not be permitted to fail without punishment. We understand why you did this, but it cannot be forgiven. It was not enough that I was there in body and that I was there in deed. In my mind I was trying to escape. And so: I failed. No points. I did my best but I will soon be summarily dismissed, and it was very foolish of me to put so much faith in my actions.

I am being pulled between these worlds.

Today I realized neither world is true, as powerful an illusion as they may be.

Today, I live in today’s world.

So: I begin to eat, and my body reminds itself this is a good thing. I relax; I will be able to finish this meal.

I can now do the next thing.

Today I can do the things I am supposed to do. I can communicate with kindness and directness. I can meet my responsibilities to family, to self-care, to my larger community. I can do the laundry and wash the dishes and drive my mother where she needs to go and meet with a friend who could use my help. I can pray; I can meditate. I can talk to my sponsor. If I have time I can pick up and sew this dress, that rests behind me on the studio table. I can talk to my husband about his day. I can hold him. I can make him a cup of coffee. I can bring my body to nurture: making food, hugging and kissing my husband and my children.

On the drive home from the college the black sky opens up and a torrential rain hits the streets. We who live here know it is the season: many months of darkness and rain. The earth here absolutely loves it; drinks in enough nourishment to stay green all through the year, while wildfires rage and the country burns. Here we hurry from our cars inside the café for a hot cup of coffee; we connect by eye contact with friend and stranger alike. The rain hammers the windows while I slice an apple for my son, who will soon be up and, as is his 13-year old wont, hungry.

under bridges of what’s to come

My kids’ shoes end up: in my bedroom, on the bathroom floor. As relatively tidy and supremely well-behaved as my children are, they are nevertheless creatures of comfort: discarding clothes before taking a luxurious hot shower, or slipping off shoes before crawling in bed next to me to cuddle. They leave off on their errands to game – I hear shouts! of laughter from downstairs – and leave their clothes here and there. If they were adults I was forced to room with, I would find it all very irritating. As it is, these mundane remembrances are a comfort to me. I know when they leave my home I will miss them so.

“Are you okay?” my son says, at dinner. We are the only two left at the table and he is helping himself to a third serving of pasta. I tell him Yes, I am just tired and he says, “Put your hand here,” indicating the table between us. His long hand rests on mine – preternaturally beautiful fingers, and long nails. Then, shortly: “I need this to eat,” he smiles, removing his hand and crossing his right over so he can still comfort me.

I am okay, sure – but I am mentally very tired. I am meeting once a week with a small business consultant. I am in couples counseling every two weeks; I take one of my children to therapy every other week from that. It isn’t as if I’m particularly worried in all these concerns, but they very much require a special focus on my part. I am still reeling from the kids’ transition into their teenage years – which is absolutely nothing like the dour, cynical predictions would have had me believe, but is nevertheless a sea change – and I am experiencing the sadness of finally, finally no longer having a family bed. My husband’s car is once again tits-up – and mine is on the last legs for its brakes. My mother is selling her home, after five generations of lives passing through the old Victorian. A family friend dies young and this brings up, for me, horrible memories.

Challenging? Absolutely.

There are many glimmers of goodness in this time. My older child is happier, a brief calm sea. They hold and hug and kiss me several times a day. The younger is a bit more volatile – a surprise, given his sweet nature – but I am gentle with him and he is good at coming to his sense and apologizing. And so, for that matter, am I. I put no small amount of concentration onto helping their father connect with them. He is gone for hours each day, after all, and misses the many opportunities I have.

On the turn of the dime it is absolutely fall, no longer summer. Even the warm days have a dampness and chill in the air. It’s incredible to me, as it was so very hot just before the break. Ralph finished painting the house during our driest spell. In a week or so I’ll pull all the summer clothes for storage and bring out my winter coats in preparing for the long, dark winter to come. As it will, whether we are ready or no.

a stuttering, a restart

Tonight my oldest child is finishing up their art final and submitting it. This is one of three classes for the quarter finished; they have two more winding up here over the next couple weeks and then – summer break.

It’s incredible to me this time next year my child will have an Associate of Arts degree from a community college – at age 16. I’d love to tell you all that we meant it to go this way or, even more importantly, that we have some great master plan for what we’ll do when they graduate. Well, I could say either of those things but they would be false.

Last week we hit the induction ceremony to Phi Theta Kappa; Phoenix is now the youngest-ever member of this chapter. I was working all day and changed out of workwear to something suitable for the event; I rounded up the kids and met Ralph on campus (he was onstage helping, as staff), walking in late and taking a back-row seat. Phee remained close to me and tried not to give into nerves; they weren’t sure if they were going to have to speak in front of everyone, or what. My other child sat next to me and at one point was jokingly harassed by a neighbor sitting a few chairs over; tender as Nels is, he took the teasing to heart. I sat there with my two teenage children who both needed my reassurance and softness just as they’ve needed it their whole lives.

The ceremony, although short and to the point, was nevertheless a bit soothing, a bit special. I am still salty AF over how hard it’s been to get Phee the support they need, being academically-advanced and relatively introverted. I keep thinking I could help so many other parents if I got my act together and wrote about our experiences, or especially if I educated myself more as to resources. But the truth is this year so far work has been exhausting me. I’m in this goofy race at the moment, trying to get my work done so I can have a breather and put some time in elsewhere.

“Elsewhere” meaning, probably, seeking out more money or scholarships or fellowships, really. I want to get this kid the tablet they would find so helpful and, in terms of drive and focus and hard work, they so clearly deserve. I’ve been trying to save up money – a huge wad of cash in a special place – but family ish keeps coming up. The car is in the shop and the bill for that drops in a couple days. Just tonight while Ralph did the dishes an ominous gurgling emanated from the bathroom – diced up salad and sink water began spurting from the tub drain. So tomorrow: a plumber. My pile of cash is not safe, not ever. I’m not angry or worried, it’s just how it is.

I’m thankful that with my relatively punishing schedule lately, I haven’t fallen ill. My son woke up with a headache and sore throat last week; I ran him a bath, got him something to drink and a couple Tylenol. We fall ill so rarely and it is a great opportunity to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n.

Tonight my body aches; Ralph is asleep and the children awake. I journal, yoga, meditate. Then time for bed, after watching of course a punishingly-horrid supernatural documentary. I’ve logged many hours on the laptop while I doze in and out, my mind perhaps being populated by cryptids and lake monsters I have no conscious awareness of, or belief in.

more / in focus

With a child prone to depression, a good day is such a good day. Everything seems brighter, when your kid is doing well. If we get a couple good days in a row I start to relax enough to remember how different life once was. It reminds me there were many years where every day, both my kids were in this space.

It’s tempting to let the moods of my kids, or the mood of my husband, reframe my day. It’s difficult to just have my day.

My son sleeps until the mid-afternoon; if I have a client over to try on a garment, I’ve got to rustle him out of the downstairs bedroom first into his own room. Most of my clients are women with their guard down and don’t mind disrobing and don’t mind who else is in my home, by way of children, when they do it. The other day while helping a woman with a dress she kept hauling it up to look back and forth, exposing her plain cotton panties unselfconsciously; I guess we’re kind of friends now.

But back to my kids. In the afternoon Nels’ hair in a tangle on the pillow, like the Leonard Cohen song. My son is tall, only a couple inches shorter than I. His long, beautiful brown foot out from under the comforter. Later: “I am just so hungry!” he tells me cheerily, as he brings forth an elaborate plate of food to the coffee table. His life consists of sleeping, doing a bit of housework (happily!), playing outside and ringleading, and then gaming – making videos and uploading them. About now, around midnight, I start trying to wrangle him to  shower and then sleep or at least towards it. Phee is usually upstairs on a Discord server with friends; they watch movies at night while Phee draws.

My work schedule has been intense; I’m also trying to get my tailoring business all above board and tidied up with itself. Learning about scheduling software, invoicing, filing. I had plans for a few projects this year but time, and the mundane business of earning money, is slipping quickly by.

No matter what though I I do my thing, my volunteer avocation: hanging out with other addicts. Trying to help. Tonight I dropped a c-bomb in a meeting and thought, Whoops. Too harsh. At least for some people. I’m thinking though that I need to carve out a tiny bit more space, have a place I can be a little more open, a little more abrasive.

Tonight Phee is in bed early; good. They’ll get a lot more sleep before school tomorrow.

Tonight I am really glad to be alive because not everyone gets this opportunity, and certainly none of us do for very long.

Nels & Tinderbox

mother’s day: on performing your children

Nels & Tinderbox

I believe I hurt someone’s feelings a little while back, when they were asking me for parenting advice. I said,

“Stop thinking of your baby as being ‘good’. Stop showing off the baby. She’s a person, not a pet. The sooner you abandon these practices the better it will be for you – and your kid.”

I’ve said this before. And if I was a bit direct – well first, I was being asked to be direct. Second: it’s nothing I didn’t learn the hard way.

I did every one of these things and lived to repent, and change my attitude. And I’ve left my own early parenting writings online – you can go back and see I made these mistakes.

Parents do these things, because we’re told to. It’s modeled to us. It’s conflated with “good” parenting.