My husband has the most beautiful eyes. A light, clear blue, like the sky near the sea on a slightly overcast day. His eyes are as gentle as he is. My daughter and my younger son have eyes that change color depending on the light. Sometimes they are a rich, warm olive green, sometimes they look like glittering copper pennies. My oldest son has my eyes. Darkest brown, so deep the pupils disappear. Our eyes are as different as we are. One of the things binding my children to me, is that we are mixed race and therefore inherently designed to stand out from the crowd. Whether or not we asked for it, we will never be followers. Whether or not we chose it, we cannot help but to lead the way.
I think about my sons all the time. I think about how they were as babies and when they were the same age my daughter is now. How quickly time flies. It is this way for all mothers. We blink our eyes and suddenly our children are taller than we are. They are driving, working, getting married. Suddenly they are waving goodbye and our worlds collapse.
My daughter asked to wear makeup to church yesterday. At four and 3/4 (the 3/4 is EXTREMELY important) she wants to do whatever she sees me doing. Admittedly I’ve indulged her in the past, let her wear a little eye shadow, a little lip gloss. A little sparkle on her cheeks. It was harmless, just for fun, and yet I couldn’t help but feel the passage of time ever more acutely. I couldn’t help but think of the day when she doesn’t wake up wanting to be just like me. I couldn’t help but hope it never comes.
My oldest son is practically an adult now. Soon to be seventeen, he’s building his own views on life; on politics, religion, philosophy. He loves to debate. His voice raises, takes on a new timbre. His deep brown eyes light up with the fire of new ideas. Even when he mixes up his sources or flies off in odd tangential directions I am proud of him. I admire his certainty. In this way he is like his little sister. Just this morning Alice was leaping around the kitchen, asserting herself in the way only she can. It started with her watching “Creative Galaxy” on Grandma’s laptop. They were giving a ballet lesson. Inspired, I did a a few leaps, remnants of my ballet dancing past. Alice jumped off the chair and leaped after me, hopping awkwardly from foot to foot. Satisfied with herself she announced boldly, “That’s how you do leaps Mama. I can do it better than you, I’m a better dancer!”
“Oh really now, I had no idea!” I said laughing.
“Yep, I can teach you but you won’t do it like I can.” She replied matter of factly and went back to watching her show. Her easy confidence awes me. Whenever I am confronted with it I breath a silent prayer that the rush of oncoming years doesn’t crush it.
Unlike Alice, my oldest son built his sense of pride and certainty from the ground up. Also unlike his little sister, Jaden’s confidence was hard won. Jaden is a performer now, singing, dancing, acting, he shines on stage. He’s also behind the camera and has talked about wanting to do all of it for a career. He’s at ease on stage, loves having an audience. This was not always the case. At Alice’s age he was sensitive and suspicious. Where Alice runs towards anyone with a bear hug in tow and we have had to counsel her about strangers, who you hug and who you don’t, Jaden would glare ominously at anyone he didn’t know, daring them to try to touch him. Where Alice loves preschool, I ended up taking Jaden out of preschool because he spent most of his time in the corner, nervously avoiding the jovial mass of children. He was sullen at school, refusing to participate in anything, while at home with his family his personality shone. For him, preschool was a complete waste of time and money. We were paying for him to have a giant three hour anxiety attack three days a week. He didn’t fare much better with activities either in the early years. I signed him up for soccer and he would hold onto my legs crying, terrified of the soccer field. When he did leave the sidelines, instead of running after the ball like all the other kids he would dance after it like he was in a production of West Side Story meets team sports. It was absolutely hilarious. Naturally dramatic and naturally talented, he had a love/hate relationship with his gift. Shy of the limelight and desperate for approval, Jaden preferred being home away from crowds, strangers and unpredictability. He would perform for his brother and I, making up songs and goofy skits. We lived in a wretched little trailer on his father’s parents’ property and Elliott would sit in my lap on my bed while Jaden performed. Once he fell off the end of the bed. Unfazed he leapt back up and made it part of the show. I laughed so hard my sides hurt. He continued to struggle with his abilities and his fears throughout his childhood. It wasn’t until he faced his demons of self hatred and conquered his need to compare himself to everyone around him that his roots finally began to thread their way through the rich soil of the landscape of his life and his leaves began shooting through the dark earth. Since then he has been blooming before my eyes.
My middle child has been following his own star as well. Elliott has his father’s and grandfather’s aptitude for musical instruments. He can pick up anything and play it with ease. He’s also an artist like his grandmother, draws and paints. He’s good with his hands. Fourteen years old, he’s at an age where he’s beginning to take things seriously. At least that’s what we hope he’s doing. Although it’s a balancing act, basking in his easy joy is not a thing I would give up for the world. I want him to be more responsible, to take responsibility for himself and his actions. I also want him to keep his unaffected manner. When he was born, Elliott was the easiest, sweetest baby anyone ever could have wanted. He was always smiling, never fussed, never cried. He had an easy nature that made him an absolute joy to be around. I remember when he first opened his eyes, the nurse exclaiming “He has blue eyes!”
“No he doesn’t.” I answered woozily, having been drugged against my wishes (more on that in another post.) Sure enough when they put him in my arms his eyes were a deep crystal blue like the Ionian sea. They stayed that color for several years but eventually shifted to the changeable color they are now. It took me a long time before I saw Elliott as anything other than my baby. For so long it was he and Jaden and he was the youngest. My husband teases me about seeing Elliott permanently as an eight year old boy. The time of innocence mixed with unbridled curiosity. When he was in love with Harry Potter and Spiderman. When he thought his Stepfather was a hero. Before the edges of the middle school years left their mark upon my heart.
Both my sons broke my heart in middle school. Their father having recently left for Oregon to marry his soulmate, Jaden went first. Puberty does strange things to children and mine were no exception. Full of rage at the world for its failings, disillusioned with the lies adults tell each other and their children, and ready for war Jaden needed his Father and there was nothing my husband or I could do to fill that role for him. He was both angry at his Dad for all the reasons teenage sons become angry at their Fathers and craving his love, attention and acceptance. It was not working for him to be so far away from his Father and no matter how hard we tried to make up for it, we had to accept that there was only so much we could do. Jaden was suffocating on his own anger and a deep sense of self loathing. He hated school, hated all the kids who went there and refused to make friends with any of them. He wasn’t expressing himself creatively and out of boredom he was antagonizing his teachers writing about inappropriate topics just to get a rise out of them. He scared the hell out of me making up songs about weapons and violence. I took him to the doctor and then to another doctor and then to a counselor and then to another counselor and they put him on a bunch of medications which only made everything worse. Of course I blamed myself the way most mothers will. I stayed up at night obsessing over what I was doing wrong, despite the fact that both my husband and my own Father said the same thing. It isn’t even about you. He needs his Dad. It was after an awful fight between Jaden and his brother during which Jaden scared his little sister by almost breaking her baby gate and threatening to kill Elliott (Elliott as we later discovered was heavily pushing his buttons) that my husband kicked him out. He went to stay with his grandparents on his Dad’s side and we gave them the expectations for him to follow. Of course they didn’t enforce anything and it didn’t work and Jaden decided he wanted to go to Oregon. I was grief stricken over what I saw then as a complete failure as a Mother. I still couldn’t see that it wasn’t about me. I just wanted my little boy back. The one who did shows for me on the end of the bed. The one who always asked me to sing him “Little Green” by Joni Mitchell before he went to sleep at night. The one who smelled like warm bread and new life and promises when I held him for the first time. The one who burst the closed chambers of my heart open as though it were a locked music box and he was the key to its symphony. The one with a little man cry and skin the color of coffee with cream, just like mine. The one with my eyes.
After Jaden left things only got worse. While Elliott was visiting Oregon for the Summer my Father died without warning and I felt like a part of me died with him. I could not understand how he could be here one day and gone the next. My Dad was so much more than biology. He was a mentor, a hero, a confidant and a friend. He was my music teacher and partner, we were in the middle of recording an album together when a blood clot changed everything. It was an astoundingly painful loss. I’ll never forget screaming at my ex-husband’s wife who is the dearest sister of my heart because his mother had texted me at four o’clock in the morning shortly before Elliott was supposed board a plane home. His trip was being cut short so he could be there for the funeral, and she felt that I was being selfish for wanting my son home and took it upon herself to tell me this. Angry doesn’t describe how I felt, I was livid. Nicole, or as I prefer to call her “the best Stepmother in the world,” told me later I was so hysterical she could barely understand what I was saying. Needless to say Elliott boarded that plane. Jaden did not, he was not stable enough to travel at that point and wouldn’t be for some time. I missed him terribly and it was during this time that Jaden tested the boundaries of every rule they set for him. He was making sure everyone was on the same page and everyone loved him enough to say no.
As Elliott headed into middle school and into that graceless time of puberty I was already in over my head and he took full advantage of it as any teenager would. Refusing to take care of even the smallest chore, his grades slipped and his attitude soared. My sweet green eyed baby had turned into a mouthy, lazy, manipulative teenage boy for whom I was no match. My husband and I tried everything we could think of and none of it worked because just like his brother he needed his Dad. I am a lot of things to Elliott but I will never be his father. Ultimately fate won out. I had sent Elliott on a trip to visit his Father in Oregon and he didn’t come back. According to them he didn’t want to come back. It was like being kicked in the head and then in the stomach because instead of talking to me about staying, so I could prepare and we could work things out he just flipped that switch. He even recorded me yelling as a power play in case any of us tried to make him come back. The sense of betrayal was acute. I wanted to cry out to him “How could you do this?! After your brother moved away and then grandpa died, now you do this to me? Why didn’t you just TALK TO ME?!!” But I didn’t. I knew it wouldn’t have done any good. I knew he wouldn’t have had any answers. Again my husband told me,
“This isn’t about you, boys just need their Fathers.”
“Then why does it feel like it is?! Something about all of this seems terribly unfair!” I knew he was right and I was right. I knew I had a right to my broken heart but at the same time I had to let go of what I had no control over. However unfair it seemed.
Like her older brother, Alice’s eyes were a different color when she was born. I held her and looked into her wide grey eyes, a shining silvery grey like white gold. Watching my other mixed race children’s features shift over time I waited for her eyes to find their color. So far, the color is still changing. Maybe, like her brother, it always will.
All three of my children have gorgeous eyes. Gorgeous eyes, gorgeous hair and gorgeous skin. All three of them are intense, talented and intelligent. They are testaments to the remarkable unique beauty of being mixed race. A gift only I could give them like the gift of their lives. The power in such a gift is that it is just that, a gift. As mothers we say to our children here is your one, wild life, now live it to its fullest. It is not our life to do with as we want, but theirs to do with as they please. As hard as it was for me to let Jaden live his life the way he needed to, he has said over and over how grateful he is to my husband for kicking him out. For loving him enough to say no. He tells me how grateful he is for everything. For his life, for my love. He wants to be an example for his brother. He dreams of the day Elliott looks up to him. He already does, I tell him. He just won’t let you know it yet. My daughter loves her older brothers with every fiber of her being. As hard as it is that she has to say goodbye to them, the time they do spend together is magical. I feel high in a way I struggle to find the words for when all my children are together under the same roof. It’s as though the top of my head might pop off and rays of sunshine will shoot out of my open skull. It’s as though my heart is a smile. My children march to the beat of their own drummers, others follow where they have led. I myself have followed them and discovered the secret. That no matter how far apart we are, we will always be as close as the breath on our lips. My children carry me in their hearts, in their minds. They wear me in their skin, in their gorgeous eyes.