Tag Archives: daughter

Last Day

4 Jun

Last kids’ yoga class.
Last night of tutoring.
Last Girl Scout gathering.
Last day with a school-issued iPad.

Last day of elementary school.

With each last, my girl looks me in the eye,
pouts her lip like she did when she was five
and says, “How sad!” But she doesn’t mean it.
She cracks the tiniest smile each time,

leaving me to ask myself if Sad
is the only ending I offered,
if Sad is the only ending I know.

Tomorrow, I drop my daughter off
for the last day of fifth grade.

Tomorrow, I drop my daughter off
for her last day of fifth grade.

And tomorrow night, we dance.

Mental Hygiene

31 Jul

LilypadsLast Friday, I was gulping down my second cup of coffee, dressed uncharacteristically in creased slacks and heeled sandals at a meeting for work, sitting between a dear friend and a new acquaintance. They were catching up. I was taking it all in. And at some point, my new acquaintance referenced “mental hygiene” as an antiquated phrase which eventually morphed into “mental health.” I’m honestly not sure which phrase I prefer, but she dismissed “mental hygiene” as the foundational philosophy for electric shock therapy and other efforts to clean or sanitize the human mind.

I saw her point, sharing her disdain for our culture’s approach to mental health through the ages, and yet …

“Mental hygiene” also resonated with me. It suggested daily maintenance, frequent care and attention. It’s a phrase that could remind me to take those daily silent moments for myself, opening that deep, rich sense of myself with the same care and frequency I put into brushing my teeth, showering, or brushing my hair.

Did I find a new title for my blog?

For months, I’ve been hopping all over the place in search of a new theme for this blog of mine. Because Miss E now has an undeniable need for privacy, which means telling the stories of our more profound or transformative conversations feels to me like breaking her trust. She is experimenting with distance and intimacy. She is full-on tween. These are precarious days.

She is also nearing the age I was when my mom began to spin out, eventually shedding her role as a parent for many years…

Recently, I arrived home after a grueling day at work, calling “Hello!” as I unlocked the door. My two dogs came running to greet me. I pet them both on the head, cooing my love. Then I went searching for the humans. Kelly, my partner, was out with clients and our home was unbelievably, eerily silent. I walked down to the basement, where my eldest was sorting the chaos of her bedroom, working hard to make it peaceful and clean – and while she was lovely to me and kind, I had clearly interrupted. I tried to stay brief, sticking to: Hello. When is our company coming? What’s the plan for dinner? And finally – Is your sister here?

“She should be in her room,” she answered, shuffling her pile again.

Miss E had never in her life failed to greet me at the door, but I climbed the stairs, knocked on her Minecraft-decorated door, entered, and found her sitting on the bed with headphones on, iPod in-hand. I kissed her head.

“What?!” she said, scrunching up her shoulders. “I’m watching videos.” I hadn’t seen her in ten hours. At least.

Still, I nodded. “Okay,” I told her, leaning over and kissing her again. “I love you.” I stood straight and walked towards her bedroom door.

“I love you, too, Mom,” she said.

I told this story to my friend Helen the next day at work, this story of the first time I arrived home after a challenging day and my young one didn’t run to greet me at the door. She said it hit her right in the heart, which I needed to hear, and she said she’d been there with her kids, too, who are all grown now. “She’ll come back to you,” Helen assured me.

“I never came back to my mom,” I replied. I didn’t think it through; I just said it. But it was true, I realized as the words came tumbling out of my mouth.

So THIS is the trouble I’m having now, I thought. This right here.

… which brought me back to the idea of Mental Hygiene. And how writing for me is like flossing.

Flossing my mind?

Helen may be right. It’s possible. Miss E may come back. Or maybe she won’t go far when she goes. When she separates. I can’t predict.

After all, at forty-five, I am slowly coming back to my mom – imperceptibly perhaps, but STILL – I wouldn’t have predicted that.

And so I floss. And I brush. And I rest. And I write. As much as I can. For my own mental hygiene. Praying we’ll all turn out all right.

 

Owls

9 Apr

I button the owl
pajamas you’ve asked me to
wear, proud and grateful.

 

National Poetry Writing Month
30 poems in 30 days

Stories of Motherhood: LTYM 2014

17 Jan

I had a tremendous experience last year. I submitted a story to Listen to Your Mother. I was invited to audition, and ultimately got cast in the show. I met bloggers, writers, moms, not-moms, creative people. I got to stand in the light. So. Much. Fun.

Why am I telling you this now, today, one year later? Because now it’s your turn! Submissions for 2014 in Chicago are OPEN  until January 29 — but if you don’t live in Chicago, don’t despair — Listen to Your Mother is in 32 cities nationwide.

Everyone has a story to tell, a story of being a mom, having a mom, knowing a mom . . .

Here’s what I shared last year, before this story – my story and the story of so many other families – changed:

The Real Thing

My stepdaughter mentioned in passing one day when she was about 12 that it was “illegal” for two women to get married. She stopped me dead in my tracks as I was crossing the living room. “What do you mean by ‘illegal’?” I asked her. Did she feel my relationship with her mother was something to be ashamed of? After years of my partner’s care to be always “out”, everywhere, casual but proud, seamlessly dropping my name and our relationship into conversations with teachers, other parents and caretakers… I needed to know.

“Well, I just meant… I mean… isn’t it illegal?”

I said, “It isn’t that we are breaking the law – It’s just that the law doesn’t recognize our family. The law doesn’t support us, but it doesn’t make us criminals.”

Her eyes relaxed, her body softened, and the corners of her mouth turned up, almost into a smile. She seemed relieved.

But this is why I believe marriage should be legal for any two women or two men who want it.

There are plenty of practical reasons involving inheritance and hospital visitation, taxes and property rights, but for me the main reason is that without the law, our children – and colleagues and friends – remain confused.

My stepdaughter’s 22 now, but my partner and I were chatting about marriage and civil unions in front of our second grader before bedtime, and she – the little one – interrupted to declare that her Mama and I should wait until the laws are completely fair before we get married, because it’s just not right to have some of the benefits but not all of them and we should hold out for the real thing.

Wow! Times have changed.

But what is the real thing? Does the state define what’s real? Do the feds? The feds hold the power to award more than one thousand benefits, rights and responsibilities with that certificate of marriage. So even though I really, truly, deeply believe that what I have at home is the real thing – no matter what it’s called – I want a piece of that, too. That contract. That security. I do.

Because how do you explain to an 8-year-old why her family is not protected and revered and respected the same way her friends’ families are, when the love and commitment are just as real?

I shouldn’t worry, though. She gets it. The young one. The older one, too. They know what’s real.

I went on a business trip last year and my first morning home, I saw my daughter’s outfit for school – the young one – laid out on the floor of her bedroom – a pair of leggings and a t-shirt I haven’t seen in a long time. “I {heart} my moms,” it said boldly in purple on the front. I think she chose it because she missed me while I was gone. Little cutie. I was touched, but I wasn’t sure she was ready for the comments it might invite.

I debated silently how I might open a conversation that would show me whether or not she was prepared to wear this t-shirt all day, but she opened the conversation on her own. “I wish it didn’t have an ‘s’,” she said. About the word “Moms.”

“Is that embarrassing?” I asked.

“No,” she said, picking up the shirt with her chin thrust forward. Pride or defiance? I couldn’t be sure.

I needed to know if she was ready before she got that shirt over her head. How many years of “lesbian moms totally rock” would be undone if she had to take the shirt off her body before school? I had to talk fast.

“Anybody who sees your shirt will know you have two moms. But most of them know anyway, don’t they?” She shrugged, lifted the shirt to pull it over her head – and stopped.

She noticed the back of her shirt had words on it, too. “Fighting for our rights,” she read. “I can do that!” she threw a couple mock karate kicks. “I can do karate! Or guns.”

“This doesn’t require that kind of fighting.”

“What kind of fighting, then?” She answered herself. “Fighting with words.”

“That’s right!” I said. “We’ve got to fight for what’s right with our words.”

“Is that because people think gay is bad?” she asked.

“Yup. People sometimes think gay is bad when they don’t think they know any gay people. People have a lot of wrong ideas about things they don’t understand.” She nodded decisively and began brushing her teeth.

She knew what she was doing.

I decided she was either tough as nails (sometimes true) or confident she had the support she needed to pull it off. And if she changed her mind partway through the day – well, she was wearing a sweatshirt she could easily zip over those words any time.

In the end, she reported only one negative comment, although I suppose there may have been others. “You can’t have two moms,” an older student apparently said. “Yes you can,” my daughter replied. “No, you can’t,” insisted the girl.

My daughter stopped, looked at the girl and said, “Well, I do.”

but loudly

11 Oct

Summer 2013 168My daughter pulls her purple backpack out of the car and slams the door – not hard – just enough to get the job done, but loudly. It’s four minutes before First Bell, and we fall into step with two or three other families streaming through the school gates onto the playground.

“Do you have your water bottle?” I ask her.

“Yeah. Mom, why do people hang themselves?”

Children and parents, nannies and babysitters, older sisters, younger brothers, toddlers and strollers and kids, and kids, and kids stream all around us.

I must have slowed down, because she tilts her head in that anxious, impatient way she has, to let me know that I’m embarrassing her.

“Well, that’s an interesting question,” I say, finally. “Where did that come from? Did someone hang themselves… in a story?”

“My friend’s book.”

“Oh. I see.” She waits expectantly, standing next to me now at the edge of the playground, where we are no longer in danger of obstructing someone’s path. Her eyes and face are wholly open to what I’ll say next.

Too open? Am I up to the task? You might think that, given my family history, I have a practiced answer for this question. I have nothing. I have to make it up on the spot.

Just like most people.

“Sometimes, when people are really, really, really sad … for a really, really, really long time … and they feel like they’ll never stop being sad … they might choose to hang themselves.” Or shoot themselves. Or take too many pills and hide in the underbrush next to a creek. “They might, but it’s a bad choice.”

When I begin, she is turned completely towards me, eager to hear, but at some point while I am speaking, she drops her backpack at my feet and runs over to hug her friend. I can see her now, spinning, her head tipped back, hair flying. “Come on!” she says now, but not to me. She jumps down from the spinning wheel, tagging her friend on the shoulder.

I don’t know quite when she leaves or how, how much she hears, how much she wants to know. She may simply want to know if hanging makes a person die. It’s the kind of thing she gets curious about – what makes a person die – so it may have been that. I don’t know.

“Come ON!” she says again, more of a command than a request this time. Then she playfully darts away, daring her friend. The chase begins. The bell rings. Her backpack is retrieved. She stops for one brief second, hugs me quickly, runs away again.

“Goodbye, sweetheart. I love you!” I call after her.

She and her friends run together to the fourth grade door, tagging each other every three paces or so, giggling and shouting the whole way.

I say to myself, as I return to my car, as I pull into traffic, as the songs on the radio change and change again, what I wanted to say to her but did not (and still I don’t know which answer was more right):

Why do people hang themselves? I have guesses, Honey – only those – because the truth is, I just don’t know.

Letter to My Girl

27 Sep

Dear Daughter,

Did you wonder last night what I was trying to say? Between the beeps on your iPad and the plucks you made on the thick strings of your cello in that half hour we had together – the half hour when we weren’t eating dinner and you weren’t getting ready for bed – did you wonder what I meant by, “I know”?

Did you notice when I said it, or were you focused on the buttered popcorn we ate for dessert?

I am writing this letter to make my meaning plain.

No, I don’t expect you to read it, not now when you’re nine. I will tell you aloud when we have more attention and time.

What I meant. What I mean. What I know.

I know Ana is your friend, your good friend. I know you like to play dress-up and practice who-knows-what-that-I-won’t-like, and talk about her boy crushes and gossip together about girls and boys in your class. I know some of the kids like to say she’s bad. I know she’s also your friend.

I want to know her better because she is your friend.

I know you’re not fond of math.

I know you don’t want to be the shortest kid in your class.

I know you love Mama and me and you’re glad we’re your parents, but that doesn’t always stop you from getting a sinking feeling when someone recognizes you as the kid in fourth grade with two moms. I know you defend us against kids who say ill-informed things. I know there are times, too, when you stay quiet. I know you can’t stand the horrible guilt you feel when you don’t speak your mind.

I know you love art. I see you developing an artist’s eye.

I know your desire to belong is why you joined your friends’ conversation about the teenage boy we saw wearing short shorts and pink shoes. I know, but it doesn’t mean I won’t call you out for suggesting boys can’t wear pink.

I know you love where you were born.

I know you take pride in your birth country and more pride in the country you live in now. I know you feel a divided loyalty sometimes – tiny maybe, barely a flicker – deep inside. I fear it will grow as you mature, and I want it not to. I want to protect you from this, from feeling the need to decide. You don’t need to decide. You can love and claim both places.

No, I don’t know how. Not yet. I hope we can learn together, as we’ve learned so many things.

I know Karyn is your true home still. I know you will share with her what you will share with no one else – not even Ana – even if you don’t know that yet yourself. I know that when it comes time to decide, if it ever comes time to decide, you will make the right choice – even if you have to try and try and try again.

I know you want to make us proud. I know you want to make yourself proud, too.

I know you wish I didn’t know some of these things.

I know you love me. I know I love you.

I know you care for your friends and family. I know you care for yourself. I want you to keep caring, keep loving.

This love and care will take us from here to there. From nine to grown. Happy. Full with life.

I love you very much, my little Peanut, every minute of every day, every step of the way.

With all my heart,

Mom

Finding the Root of this Story

20 Sep

Roots

. . . is taking a very long time.

My daughter said to me a few weeks ago during one of our nighttime chats, “Mami, tell me about you. You know everything about me and I don’t know anything about you.”

It isn’t true, of course, that she knows NOTHING about me, but I started spinning down a familiar rabbit hole.

I have never been good at answering big questions on the spot, and I habitually shut down when asked directly about myself – except for those practiced or professional lines I’ve learned to say about being a writer, an adoptive mom, a woman who loves women, a stepmom, a daughter . . . These lines, I have down pat. I’ve practiced. But more than that? No. Not without a lot of thought. Not without polish. Not without taking the time to make my answers sound “just so.”

And yet this was my daughter asking. My little girl.

“What do you want to know?” I said.

“I don’t know. Anything! Tell me a story.” Just like that: A story. Tell me a story.

A year or two ago, I made up stories especially for her. She loved it. I loved it, too. I told stories about princesses and young girls with pluck, swinging from branch to branch through the woods, always landing with both feet on the ground.

Now, she wants to hear something real. Something from my life. Something true.

These stories are harder to find.

“I had a pet rabbit, growing up. Cottontail. Did you know that? Have I told you that?”

“Boy or girl?”

“Girl.”

“What was she like?”

I told her how Cottontail used to hop around our family room sometimes. I told her I liked to feed her carrots. I told her she had spunk, and fur the color of my hair.

I didn’t tell her how Cottontail died. Or how old I was when it happened (her age). Or how truly devastated I was at the time. These are the stories in my head clamoring for attention, but I quiet them so I can tell stories I want her to hear.

This week, my daughter looks up from the book she is reading in those few minutes before dinner and she asks me, “Mom, what’s Broadway?”

I have spent my entire life on stage. Or most of it anyway. Twenty years. What is that? Half my life? A little less? And my daughter, my very own daughter asks me, nine years into our lives together: What’s Broadway?

I have to ask myself how we’ve never covered this before.

And this is when I finally understand how much of myself – my stories, my past – I’ve shut down, boxed up, stored away in the attic.

I need to go back and unpack stories that are real. And true. And mine.

I need to bring those boxes down.

I need to share Broadway with her. We need to have ice cream, and sink into the couch, and listen to famous people sing. Together.

I need to tell her about the time we forgot our lines on stage, all of us, and stood in silence for an excruciatingly long time. I need to tell her how we did each other’s hair and make-up, and we knew who liked who and how much, and who liked who back. I need to tell her how we did our homework on tables at the back of the auditorium, while listening for our cues on stage.

This is the kind of story she needs from me now. Stories with plucky friends. Real people. Real feeling. Real life. These are the stories I need to tell.

In true stories, sometimes you crash when you’re swinging from branch to branch. And sometimes you fall, and need a friend to pick you up and dust you off so you can fly again. These are the stories she needs now.

Living stories with roots in the ground, as hard as they may be to find. These are the stories we need now.

Stop: Mom with a Blog

19 Jul

Stop Sign

“Why do you have a pictures of a stop sign?” my daughter asks, scrolling through photos on my phone in the backseat.

“Sometimes, I take pictures for my blog – to go with the stories I write.”

“You write stories about stop signs?”

“No. I haven’t used those yet. I just took them, in case I write a story about… stopping something.”

“Oh.”  Silence. A long silence, during which my writing life suddenly makes no sense to me. No sense at all. We drive by a mural we see every day. “Take a picture of that!” she commands me, daring me, waiting to see what I’ll do.

“The world? You like worlds?”

“I like a world with a chain around it.” A what? “A chain of people.”

“You think I should write a story about the world?”

“You should. A story about the world with a chain of people around it holding hands. A story about peace.”

regarding the stone ballNow that’s a story I want to write. But how does one begin?

Writing Keeps Me Honest. Parenting, too.

17 May

ArrowI thought about closing my blog down for a few weeks – saying “Closed for Repairs.” Internal repairs. External repairs. Repairs. There are so many things competing for my time.

Then I was packing my work bag – After my daughter had thrown a complete fit because I dripped water on a very important piece of paper she left lying in the middle of her bedroom floor – After I failed to keep my scowls and growls to myself – After I stripped the beds, threw sheets into the washer, and mopped the bathroom floor – the bathroom where the door knob had fallen off during a play-date the day before.

I was pulling papers out of my work bag, throwing them away, gathering all our bills into a rubber band to pay online at lunchtime because lunchtime in the office I share with other people is the closest I have lately to alone-time and for some reason I feel that paying bills requires this: Alone-time.

So there I was fuming, and I pulled out a set of stickers – those random stickers the school photographer sends home to up-sell families on stuff – those stickers that last  year or the year before were plastic bookmarks instead – those stickers you get whether you want them or not but if you don’t send them back to school the next day intact, you have to pay for them. Those stickers. I held my daughter’s Fall 2012 picture-on-a-sticker in my hand.

She and my partner had just left for school and the house was strangely quiet. I held my daughter’s picture in my hand and I knew that I was going to have to make it work – this blogging, writing, parenting, everyday living thing. I just knew.

See, I don’t know how other moms find time to write and make it funny. Or poignant. Or useful. Entertaining. Something someone else may want to read. I really don’t. I don’t know how they do this and raise their children into gentle loving people, too. And cook. And keep the house sparkly clean. And jog maybe? Some moms do that. I’ve seen them. But I don’t know how they do it. All that, and work every day for a paycheck, too? Impossible. Right? There is so much evidence out there to the contrary – so many mom bloggers having it all, or looking like they do anyway. These moms are not me.

I am not that mom.

I find parenting a tween hard. Really hard. You get all this hype about the Terrible Twos – which for us were idyllic really, and I thought my life as a mom was charmed – and you hear horror stories about the teenage years. But tweens? Angelic, right?

Here’s the deal:

One minute, my darling daughter is on my lap kissing my hand and holding it against her cheek, radiating love from every pore of her body.

The next, she’s screeching that I don’t understand her, that no one understands her, that it’s not fair when she’s been nice to me all day and it’s not her fault. She’s slamming doors and stomping out of sight because I suggested that writing “1/2” as the answer for twelve consecutive math problems was not showing her best effort.

When she’s calm, we talk with her about big feelings, about how to express them without hurting anyone.

When she’s not, her big feelings bring out ours. I suppose it happens this way in every house along the block, but I only live in this one.

I remember stomping down the hallway hundreds of times in my parents’ house, slamming my bedroom door, turning the music up loud, but I don’t remember starting this young. I know for sure my mother never blogged about it.

So I thought about shutting this blog down today, saying, “Closed for repairs” or just “Closed.” I still might; I may need to. But not today.

I stood there with my little girl’s picture in my hand and I stuck it to the inside cover of my journal – because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past nine years watching my baby grow, it’s this: When I focus on her, eventually I know what to do. Because – shhhhhh! – don’t tell her – but when it comes down to it, for better or for worse, my little girl’s raising me, too.

So I don’t know why and I don’t know how, but looking at her, I know I must write every week to keep myself sane. To be the best mom I can be. To untangle the knots of the week gone by. To find balance. To remain honest.

And maybe sometimes: To find out if any one of you has been here, too.

while time waits

24 Apr

Time waits at night sometimes

with our books open side-by-side,

my reading glasses perched

partway down my nose,

my daughter absorbed

in the adventures of Greek gods

and goddesses and humor.

*

Time waits at night with

bookmarks firmly placed

between our pages.

*

Time waits tonight

while I sink into pillows.

She lays her head

next to mine. It’s been

months now since she chose

to lay this way with me.

Usually, I sit briefly

in her pink chair

while she settles in.

I’m lucky if she allows me a kiss

before I go.

*

Tonight, she reaches for my hand

and holds it between hers.

“Am I perfect? Am I

The kid you wanted?”

she asked me earlier.

“You ARE the kid I want.

I can’t even remember

what I wanted way back when

because I have you, and

YOU are the kid I want every day,”

I told her. We are both quiet now.

*

Time waits tonight

while she holds my hand

to her cheek

long enough

for both of us

to settle in

and then

she allows me a kiss,

blows me one in return

even, as I stand.

*

And so the night,

this deep sleeping night,

begins. While time waits.

*   *   *   *   *

National Poetry Writing Month:

30 poems in 30 days.

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