Some Kind of Mistake

That night I prayed as hard as I could to God to make me blonde and blue eyed like my mother. I never wanted anyone to think I was someone else’s child ever again. To stare at me like I was some kind of mistake.

My daughter was born with fair skin, rosy cheeks and strawberry blonde hair. As she grew her wide eyes turned from a soft grey to a beautiful hazel. Her hair grew out in honey gold ringlets. Early pictures of her show a child akin to Shirley Temple, except that unlike Shirley, my daughter’s curls are natural and need no pinning up during the night. To put it bluntly my daughter was and is absolutely beautiful.

Of course I ran the gamut of well-meaning, curious onlookers trying to figure out how a woman with my caramel complexion could have had this poster child for caucasian beauty. I went through the process of explaining that her father is Scotch-Irish with a big red beard and I’m half Irish-Nordic-German so combined our daughter is a strawberry McDermott beauty. Ahhhh they say. Ooooohhhhh how interesting they remark as though my daughter were a specimen under a glass. I’m immediately catapulted back to my own childhood when I was in the grocery store with my blonde, blue-eyed mother and having brought along my blonde, blue-eyed friend. All three of us were slowly making our way through the two sets of doors and after the first, my friend and I had stopped to evaluate the candy. My mother stood beside us laughing as we drooled over the sugary gummy treats, the lollipops and the chocolate, candy coated discs. It was then that a well-meaning, yet ignorant older woman remarked to my mother how beautiful her daughter was. It seemed a harmless enough comment until my mother said, “No, that’s my daughter,” pointing her finger at me.

“Oh, I see.” The woman said and continued on her way but not until after she spent a good amount of time staring at me, then staring at my mother then back to me. I could feel my cheeks under my brown skin getting hot and my tight, unruly curls that stood out in a defiant springing mass becoming even springier and more defiant. The woman finally left us be.

“Did you choose your candy Kimmy?” My mother asked. Suddenly my mouth was as dry as the asphalt outside. The brightly colored gummies, lollipops, chocolates and other sugary treats made me sick just to look at them.

“No, I don’t feel like candy anymore.” I replied, blinking back tears. My friend ended up with a lollipop and the smell of it sickened me. I followed my mother and her should be daughter through the second set of doors and into the store. That incident left me with two truths. White people were beautiful. White people like my mother, like my friend. Brown people were not beautiful. Brown people like me. And I didn’t belong. That night I prayed as hard as I could to God to make me blonde and blue eyed like my mother. I never wanted anyone to think I was someone else’s child ever again. To stare at me like I was some kind of mistake. I woke up the next morning holding my breath, squeezing my eyes shut and willing myself not to move. Finally I couldn’t stand the anticipation any longer so I ran down the hall to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Of course I looked exactly the same. A single angry tear of betrayal slid down my cheek. I resolved to pray harder that night. And the night following. I’d pray until God heard me. Of course He never did.

My daughter has a different kind of experience. Everyone tells her she is beautiful all of the time. As she has gotten older her hair has darkened to a dirty blonde and her eyes are copper colored. She is still fair, however she is developing an olive tone to her skin and more of my features are showing themselves in her beautiful face. her hair is still wavy with ringlets when she lets me comb it. Otherwise it takes on a life of its own. She is four and 3/4 years old. I know when she is sixteen all bets are off. Multiracial children are beautiful, changeable beings. Their hair may go from straight to curly. Their skin may go from light to dark. Their eyes may go from blue to green to grey. Alice’s older brother Elliott had hair so straight it merely waved in the wind. On this latest Mother’s day he showed me a dark brown tightly springing ringlet on his head that I could not believe was there. “Look mom, I’m getting blacker!” He was so proud of himself. He was born with the biggest, bluest eyes I’d ever seen and straight honey colored hair, the lightest shade of brown.

My oldest son is the darkest of the three, with my complexion and my dark eyes and curly hair. He wears his ethnicity proudly, far more proudly than I ever did. I hope I contributed to that. People remark that we look practically like twins and of course I feel proud, considering I’ve experienced the opposite. I wish it were enough to take the sting out of the adoption jokes and the “maybe you stole her” comments but it’s not. People are far too stupid and its happened far too often. I’m just sick of  it. I want to grab them around the neck and say “Look white person. That. wasn’t. funny.” Of course I don’t grab anyone. I do however stare at them until they start blushing, hopefully realizing they shoved their foot not just in their mouth, but all the way down their throat as well.

Having spent my whole life biracial I have heard wonderful things. I have also heard things I wish I could wash from my mind forever. You’d be surprised how many times the phrase “You’re really nice for a black girl” has graced my ears. Or the litany of racially insensitive jokes people tell when they can’t define me and therefore feel safe letting their ignorant flags fly. Sometimes I think if one more person asks me “What are you?” I’ll slap them. And then I’ll say “See? I’m a human being. Who slaps.”

Coming from the era of little test boxes where you would be sitting in school and suddenly you were supposed to check a box labeled with your race. There was no choice to check more than one and when you gingerly walked your paper up to the teacher’s desk and asked her what to do she gave you an impatient/pitying look and said just choose the obvious one, implying the black one, hearkening back to the old one-drop theory wherein a single drop of “negro” blood rendered one a “negro.” My parents of course as I got got older always encouraged me to check African American for the scholarship opportunities. “Sweetie, they see you this way anyways. You may as well make them pay for it.” That just never felt right. It felt like a denial of who I was, who I am. I’m not black. I’m not white. I’m a biracial being with a wholly new set of characteristics deserving of recognition. Because of our country’s system of identification I have always either felt invisible or far too VISIBLE never in-between. At forty-one I imagined I would have gotten used to being a circus attraction but no. One never does get used to that.

Things have gotten better for my children, although they are not perfect. The boxes have gone from other because they didn’t know what to call us, to one or more races which I’m actually happy with. One day the box will read multiracial and then I’ll know the walls are coming down. Other things are different for my children as well. When I was their age you did not see interracial families on television. No way. The families were one race, the children easily defined. It was daring to even have a side character that was another race on the show. Television was agony for me as a child because I didn’t identify with any of the families. The storylines were confusing, the way the people interacted was not the way my family interacted. And no one talked about the kind of bullying I experienced at school for being different. The only show that made any kind of sense to me was Star Trek. Star Trek was profound. Not only were there different races but there were different species and they all mixed. There were Multiracial humans and interspecies beings and everyone acted with a modicum of decorum the way my family did, not some stereotypical narrow set of behaviors the rest of the tv families seemed to portray. I spent many hours watching Star Trek with my father. He loved it, and now that I’m older I can see why. It was miles ahead of its time for so many reasons. One reason in particular that touched my heart deeply and gave me a sense of belonging the rest of the world lacked.

My daughter says she has cream skin. “I have cream skin Mama and Grandma has cream skin and so does daddy! But you have brown skin like Jaden right? What about Pop-pop? (Her name for her Grandfather. She used to call her Grandmother Grandmommy which was so cute while it lasted) Pop-pop had dark brown skin like dark chocolate right mama? what color does Elliott have? Is it darker cream?” I love how she is gentle and accurate in her observations. Her colors come from her box of crayons. She doesn’t understand the racial terms “black” and “white.” She doesn’t see one color as superior to the other and she doesn’t see anyone as fitting those descriptions. It’s beautiful, her state of mind, her level of development. It makes me wonder why that ever has to change. Why someone’s color has to matter SO much in this society. Why the colors can’t just mix and match into a marvelous rainbow.

My sons argue over who is blacker. I tirelessly tell them they are the same quarter African American. This does not satisfy them. “Jaden stole all the blackness and the tallness!” My middle son Elliott cries out. “It’s not fair!” He scowls at Jaden as if his older brother had any choice in his outward appearance.

“Dude, you need to chill.” Jaden gives his little brother his stock answer. Of course this is easy for him at sixteen, standing over six foot tall with caramel skin, naturally curly hair, a strong jaw complimented by Hollywood cheekbones, large dark eyes with a fringe of lashes and a gorgeous girlfriend.

“You will grow Elliott and you are just as handsome as your brother, you hear it all the time. You need to embrace your own version of beautiful. Look at those eyes. You know your eyes could stop traffic.” I’m not exaggerating. Elliott has a pair of the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.

“But am I black enough to say the N-word?” Elliott asks this partly genuinely, partly to push my buttons.

“I would not recommend you use that word. I don’t think it’s good for anyone.” I tell him this knowing his favorite music is full of it and although my father was against its usage, these days things have changed. But still my multiracial son is fair enough to raise not only eyebrows but fists and for his safety I caution him to steer clear of that word. For his own good. “Out of respect for your Grandfather keep your language clean.” I tell my sons, knowing my daughter already uses the F word but luckily NOT at preschool.

I absolutely love being a mother. I just run out of steam sometimes and wonder if my children are secretly plotting against my sanity. I think it’s a mom thing. Perhaps we do lose a few brain cells along the way. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I disagree with that. When you’re the mother of young children who turn into teenagers and then you have another young child, I think what doesn’t kill you makes you stupid. “Huh? I said I’d do what? Has anyone seen my keys? I don’t think I showered yesterday…or did I? Wait! Don’t throw that out, that’s my yesterday coffee! I know my shirt is on inside out, I’ll fix it before I go anywhere. I seriously think I forgot my kid’s middle name…” The list goes on. At the end of the day I congratulate myself that they are alive, well-cared for and they all know I love them. This is especially important for my boys who spend so much time in Oregon. I have to remind myself that the myriad conversations I have with their stepmother about them counts to a tremendous degree. Ultimately I know each and every one of my children was wanted, loved and meant to be. Their undefinable quality is part of their unique beauty, their multiracial identities are not a mystery for the rest of the world to solve but rather part of their own profound natures and their business alone. My kids are marvelous to behold, just by existing in the world, and they remind the little girl inside me that I’m not just some kind of mistake.

 

 

Rain Dance

We cannot live our lives in fear of missing moments, of moments ending, of failing to extract every meaningful drop out of our children’s existence as though they were dishrags to be wrung out, to be twisted.

This is the time to remember
Cause it will not last forever
These are the days
To hold on to
Cause we won’t
Although we’ll want to…

–Billy Joel

Truer words were never written. As much as we try to hold onto those precious moments they end up slipping away from us like the soft cotton of a dandelion head. And all we have left are our memories.

When Jaden was a baby (he’s sixteen now) I remember one afternoon willing myself to commit him to memory. This won’t last I told myself. The way he smells, his little, chubby hands and feet. His big, wide, innocent eyes. Remember this! I willed myself. As if it were possible. As if time, the great thief that it is, were not lying in wait to steal that and so many more moments from my mind like an ever empty and waiting void.

A poem by Langston Hughes reads

“Life is for the living.

Death is for the dead.

Let life be like music.

And death a note unsaid.” 

The beauty of these words is that they speak to our deepest fears and then tell us how we  should handle them. Life is indeed for the living. I could spend the rest of my life trying to memorize each moment with my children, or I could simply surrender to the joy those moments with my children bring me. It is a choice. I could not have known this at twenty-four. I barely know this at forty-one. Another aspect of this philosophy and a truly important one is that it relieves us of guilt. Here’s an example; my daughter is playing and I’m writing and she calls for me. Does she absolutely need me? No. Does she want time with me and is that important? Of course it is and I will give her that time. It just doesn’t have to be RIGHT NOW. Life is for the living and that means my life is for me as well as hers is for her. If I want to really play with her, I mean really be engaged I need to give to myself first so I’m not this empty vessel. Will I miss out on time with her? Of course I will. Will the sky fall? No. Assuredly it will not.

We cannot live our lives in fear of missing moments, of moments ending, of failing to extract every meaningful drop out of our children’s existence as though they were dishrags to be wrung out, to be twisted. It is simply impossible to stop the hands of the clock of time. The earth will spin regardless of what we do and our children will grow older as painful a process as it may be. Why not enjoy the ride? One thing all children need to learn is how to entertain themselves. It’s a shocker I know. In this age of immediate gratification it seems an almost foreign concept. It’s important to remember that by catering to her every need I am in a sense robbing her of her ability to live her life to its fullest. I don’t want her running back to me every time the rain begins to fall. Rather I want her to dance in it.

I want her to dance in the rain and think nothing of the thrilling splash of the puddles, the gentle spray of droplets on her face. Because that as well as anything else is part of the human experience. Whether the rain trickles down lightly so we have an afternoon of damp cavorting, or in great sheets so we are soaked to the bone in a matter of minutes, the rain wakes us up, pulls us from our complacency and drowns out the sameness of our otherwise predictable lives.

Life is for the living. That means each moment is a gift for us to do with as we please. There is no guidebook. There is no test with a looming answer sheet lying in wait to point out all of our mistakes. On the contrary. Our life is ours. To jump up and down in the rain, to wrap ourselves in a blanket and binge watch Orange is The New Black, to change careers ten times, to drop out of college. To teach our children to swear in preschool. To lose at poker, to win at poker. To get pulled over five miles from home after drinking one too many glasses of wine at dinner. To run out of gas in the middle of the intersection and laugh hysterically about it. To fart in church. To be gracelessly, embarrassingly, unabashedly imperfect. To live. Because life is for the living. So my darling…LIVE.

Destiny

She kept fucking up.

She kept swallowing the goldfish, running over butterflies before they had a chance to flutter past gorgeously.

Who could love a died-in-the-wool screw up like her? Not even the cat who eyed her warily.

She was too fat for her best dress. Too thin for her mother to worry about her. “You have control over that girl! And it’s that sour attitude of yours driving them away, not your ass.

She hated her name. Grace meant all the things she wasn’t. Her name should have been Selena or Georgiana. Or even Tia. The last of those evoking a kind of reluctant sympathy. But no. Her name was Grace and she had yet to live up to it.

It was long after everyone was asleep and the clocks smiled 3:15 that Grace became Rita. Armed with only a braided satchel containing lipgloss, a passport, some valium and one ticket to Brazil scattered with greasy fingerprints she disappeared into the night.

She was never heard from again after that rainsoaked, changeling evening and her mother was satisfied.

Kimkoa 2018

An Ocean of Raindrops

Like a rainbow reflected in water, or the pattern of clouds across the sky, life as it is now is our gift. That there is nothing more beautiful for us to find.

My husband is an atheist. I asked him once, how can that be, that all we have are these moments? That holding our breath and waiting for true beauty to reveal itself wastes our only chance to experience the truly beautiful? He remarked without hesitation, “That’s what makes it so beautiful. It is just these moments.” I was stunned by his revelation and immediately the tears began to flow. In that brief second of time I could see the beauty of the world through my husband’s lens. Like a rainbow reflected in water, or the pattern of clouds across the sky, life as it is now is our gift. That there is nothing more beautiful for us to find. I also saw my husband’s true beauty. That here is a man who is good for the sake of goodness, not out of fear of some looming punishment.  A man who refuses to take any part of the great tapestry of life for granted. Because of that, he sees what God sees. He appreciates the hum of the elements coming together as one unending symphony of life, wherein Heaven and Hell exist only in the mind, as does our creator.

One can easily understand this philosophy. That rather than God, it is WE who choose how the brush strokes meet the paper to create the masterpiece that is LIFE, that we are as Godtruly choosing our own destinies, inventing our own realities, deciding how the masterpiece of the world will appear.

It is not a choice to love each individual raindrop of the ocean of creation. But what we do with that love IS a choice. Do we run from it? Do we throw it away by assigning responsibility for its care to some unseen deity? Or do we surrender to our love of the world and its many precious creatures? I agree with my husband wherein loving a collection of raindrops that when gathered together equal the water of life is an indescribably beautiful thing- A thing granted only those souls profound enough to accept it.

In this life, we choose our reality. We label our moments as either worthy or that which must be thrown away. But what if? What if we are throwing away the good stuff? What then? I’ve heard therapists and doctors talk about mindfulness as an antidote to depression and at first I felt confused by the idea. I didn’t understand how to be mindful on a level that would change anything about how I felt. But to view mindfulness though the lens of imagining that my raindrop and its role in the great art of the world is of the same importance as the ocean of drops surrounding it, I can then surrender my inner critic and experience each breath of life the way life is meant to be experienced. Without the constant editorial presence we develop along the road to adulthood. Great works of art are made up of elements. Artists realize this. That the individual brush strokes are what create the final image. That without each connection of the brush to the page, the image would be a different thing. Distinctly and irreversibly changed. We are each of us a brush stroke, creating the masterpiece of our world. We choose what our art becomes. The painting only God can see. God being the greatest artist and alive only if we choose Him to be for ourselves.

My daughter is sick. She has the flu and pneumonia. When my children are sick I always focus in on each tender moment with them, terrified of losing them to their illnesses. I watch the rise and fall of their chests when they breathe, I feel the dampness of their foreheads, the heat of their cheeks when they are flushed with fever. I listen to their coughing, analyzing the sound in case they don’t cough in the doctor’s office. I am completely aware of them, mindful of their existence. Their beauty becomes even more poignant because I am aware of how precious they are, and how vulnerable. I am not afraid to love them, even though to do so is to surrender myself to the possibility of loss.

Religion teaches us not to love the world, that there is a greater beauty beyond its borders. In the bible John 2:15 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.  If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

This is not the only example. When I was a bahai I was taught the same thing. The Bahai writings state:

O friend, the heart is the dwelling of eternal mysteries, make it not the home of fleeting fancies; waste not the treasure of Thy precious life in employment with this swiftly passing world. Thy comest from the world of holiness- bind not thine heart to the earth; thou art a dweller in the court of nearness- choose not the homeland of the dust.

-Baha’u’llah

In both of these messages there is a great emphasis on detachment as a means of coping with potential loss. It’s as if we are told to resist falling in love. A wonderful movie called Jack and The Cuckoo Clock Heart is almost an ode to this idea. Anyone who hasn’t seen it needs to. The protagonist Jack is born with a heart of ice and it is replaced with a cuckoo clock. He is told it will work only if he never falls in love. The moment he falls in love his life is over. The clock stops when he gives into his heart’s desire. He basically has power over his own life and yet he doesn’t because how do you control falling in love?  Again I think of my children. The fact that I could never accept that losing them would do anything other than rip a gaping hole in the world’s tapestry. That for me, the world would not be as beautiful without them. The image would be dramatically and irreversibly changed. I admit my love of them and of the world. I admit loving the details that comprise my reality in all of its diverse glory. I love them and the world because quite simply they are worth loving. I will forever rage against and mourn for their loss if they were to be torn away from the great work of art that is life. It is my right.

Esteemed architect Miles van der Rohe famously coined the phrase “God is in the details.” I love this saying because it attributes meaning to the small parts that make up the whole. It highlights the beauty of the elements that would otherwise be lost in the grand scheme. van der Rohe knew what atheists know, what other lovers of perfect situations and circumstances know. That beauty is what we say it is. That each moment is precious, but it is up to us to claim it. To emphasize the beauty of each individual piece of wood, metal or glass that fits together to create a building so beautiful it catches one’s breath. To fight for the recognition and protection of such beautiful things simply for the reason they are there, for us to love. It is up to me whether or not  to fight for my right to be thoroughly attached to the raindrop that is my child. To fight for the right to love the image of the world that is created with my child in it, knowing I will forever mourn the loss of it should that image change.  It is still worth taking that leap. Falling in love with your child, with your lover, with the world. Even though all things change and all things die, what we know of them will still exist if only in what they left the world and the memories they left the ones who loved them. It is up to us to be grateful that although the moments did not last, their memories will always echo through the chambers of our minds. That although the image was temporary, I was there and witnessed the harmony of the elements of the world through the lens of my experience. And the beauty of it did bring my to my knees and I felt blessed.

Fierce Creatures

I love that my little girl brings out the fight in me. The lioness. She craves my wildness so she can embrace her own.

My daughter is a fierce little creature. She will not back down for anyone, for anything. I try to imagine myself as I was at her age. Her fearlessness, her unbridled zest for life. That time is becoming fainter in my mind. Like the edges of a picture softening. I suppose this is the process of growing older. I’d like to think I remember what matters. The essential grace of my life as a child.

Most of my early years were spent outside. My mother felt at home outdoors and she wanted that peace for me. I can close my eyes and I’m instantly surrounded by fragrant joy. I spent many happy hours sitting in the grass making crowns from clover, under the purple lilac tree in our front yard. I can still hear the bees buzzing in the lazy summer air and the gentle pricks of grass on my bare legs. Once I came home from playing in the woods all day and I was covered in aphids. I remember my mother singing as she washed them out of my hair. I liked seeing their little green bodies floating in and out of the bubbles. Like they were having their bath also. My mother’s happiness at the evidence I was a wild thing in the woods even for just an afternoon sticks with me. She could have been angry. She could have been afraid. Instead she found it hilarious and part of the circle of life. That was a gift she gave me. I got to be a fierce little creature that afternoon.

Alice was determined to wear her princess sock the other morning. It had no match. Should it have mattered whether or not she could find the match? Probably not. But she’s been challenging me on everything lately and I just did not want to back down. Because after the princess sock it would have been her shoes, and after the shoes her jacket and then wanting a certain snack in the car and I did not have the energy to battle her! Ultimately the battle over her sock was as big as all the small battles together would have been so as usual my daughter won. I am a lioness raising another lioness, although she is mostly a straight up wildcat at only four and three quarters and she lets me know it every single day.

I’ve been battling the waves of bipolar lately. Up and down, back and forth, I’m being tossed around the stormy sea of my emotions. It’s so hard to feel like I’m making any progress on bipolar storm days. All I can do is breathe in and hold, breathe out and hold and let it be. The hardest days for me are when the weather outside is changeable. It makes me feel changeable on the inside. There is a distinct feeling to storm days. There is almost an electricity to my mind. I inwardly tell myself to “batten down the hatches.” As anyone with bipolar knows it doesn’t matter how much medication you take, there will be bad days. Really the only thing you can do is get through them.

I use sensory tricks all the time. Certain smells really help me. I am a connoisseur of perfumes, scented lotions and essential oils. Certain textures also really help, the softer the better. My family knows what it means when I’m wrapped in a blanket with a hat on and the fireplace going, candles lit and the scent of lavender pervading the room. It means I’m taking care of myself. It means I’m doing battle. It means I’m being strong as hell. I am captaining my ship over ferocious waters, through the vicious bipolar storm.

I talk a lot about wanting my daughter to learn to fight for herself, wanting her to be a warrior. But what about when the enemy lies within? That is a different kind of battle, needing a different set of skills. In a sense you are doing battle against your own mind. I find that when I am struggling it even leaks over into my dreams. My dreams become chaotic and often terrifying nightmares. I would be lying if I said this disease were not agony. I often want to still the clock for the duration of the “dip” and let it spin again when I feel more able to handle the world.

Alice senses so much of what I’m going through. The irony is the more depleted I feel the more she wants to cling to me almost as if she is pulling me out of the storm by the sheer force of her will. I have to remind myself to be consistent with her, not to surrender to the beast all children become when they know mom is tired and they might “get away with something.”

Today, after picking Alice up from school she had to use the potty. “Mama I need to go potty!” Literally the next sentence I heard her say was “Mom, there’s pee on the floor and I puked in the toilet!” She said this with the same matter of fact tone she says everything.

“What?!” I was trying to figure out the extent of the damage.

“I said there’s pee on the floor and I puked a little bit in the toilet because I don’t feel good.” I was already up the stairs by then.

“How did you get pee on the floor?” She then demonstrated how she sat too close to the edge of the toilet and the pee shot out over the edge in a yellow arc. Luckily there was a rug easily washed to catch the evidence. “Poor baby why did you throw up?” She hasn’t felt well lately and I was genuinely concerned.

“I don’t know, but I’m better now. Can I have chocolate?” I envy her youthful ability to quickly move on from things.

“Alice, of course not, you just threw up!” At this response to her query she began to howl and yell the word chocolate over and over again. My head felt like a balloon about to pop. I calmly looked at her and said, “since when has that ever worked with me?” Inside I was praying this would be enough to dissuade her. Amazingly it was. She quit howling and ran over to the pantry. She climbed up and grabbed a bag of chocolate chips, thrusting them at me.

“You really need to hide these higher!” I suppressed a laugh.

“Ok goofball.” I shoved it behind some cans on the top shelf. She was onto the next.

“I really need something sweet! These crackers!” It made no sense.

“What? Those are gluten free cheese crackers, they’re not sweet at all.” At that moment I realized this was the best part of my day. My weird, wild little daughter climbing in the pantry like the fierce creature she is.

“Well, they’re a little bit sweet…and I can have cheerios! With Almond milk!”

“Sure, that works.” All in all this was a happy outcome. She was momentarily satisfied. Soon after eating she asked for a movie on her grandma’s laptop. And then she wanted to paint space. And she did, beautifully. My daughter moves so fast I have to race along with her. Together we are going at top speed and before I know it I am flying above the raging waters of my illness.

I love that my little girl brings out the fight in me. The lioness. She craves my wildness so she can embrace her own. I know I will never stop learning from her, as she learns from me. That is the best part. The storm may throw me in a million directions. But my daughter will always guide me home.

Love Letter

With you I am me.
With you I remember my loveliness
Effervescent Time traveler you—
Simple grace little one clinging, singing, running faster than I can breathing in and out
Chewing on your collar
How can someone so small be so majestic
Mighty
Mommy’s little wildcat
Fight forever baby girl

Kimkoa 2018

The Conversion Machine Part 3

I put my arm around her and said “Who cares what anyone thinks. It’s your baby, your body. You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to feel like God is disappointed in you. The price has already been paid long before you were the sparkle in your mother’s eye. Just make a life for your little girl and for God’s sake it’s just sex people have it all the time. You just got lucky.

Somehow I made it through eight years of that life. I remember the strangeness of our Jamaican honeymoon where all the tourists were white and the servants were black. The heartbreaking shanty towns, full of barefoot children playing among huts constructed out of cardboard and discarded metal with tin roofs. There were no playgrounds for them. I remember A woman getting arrested while braiding our hair for not having the proper paperwork. I remember the shops; clean, beautiful and full of white people. The rich white vacationers disgusted me. I hated the flippant way they ordered about the help. I wished they would suddenly switch places with their servants. The thought of it made me smile. I remember men constantly trying to sell Ian weed. I remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing I’d married the wrong man. I tried to be happy in Jamaica but the whole thing felt like a lie. I’ll never go back there. You’d have to drag me.

We didn’t stay long in Alaska as a married couple. Ian had a ton of friends in Oregon, a posse really, and it seemed like we could start our lives there. It didn’t really work that way though. I felt so stifled by the bahai faith, by this set of laws I was supposed to follow. It brought me nothing but pain from the outset. Of course they mindfuck you by saying your misery is a result of tests from God and they are gifts. The more tests and difficulties the more God loves you. It’s practically foolproof.

Until you start looking into the life of Baha’u’llah, prophet founder of the Bahai faith. He married his first wife Asiyih Khanum, when she was just fifteen years old in 1835. He then married his second wife Fatimih Khanum, eleven years his junior when she was just twenty-one in 1849. He then married his third wife Gawar Khanum some years later. This is of course in keeping with the custom of muslim men in the middle east and this is what Bahais will tell you in defense of his multiple wives. They’ll claim he was just following the laws of the land and hadn’t yet written his own. Really? So he just wanted to fit in I suppose. I didn’t know prophets cared about “fitting in.’

On behalf of the Universal House of Justice 10-23-1995

Regarding the wives of Baha’u’llah, extracts from the letters written on behalf of the beloved Guardian set this subject in context. They indicate that Baha’u’llah was “acting according to laws of Islam, which had not yet been superseded”, and that He was following “the customs of the people of His own land.”

When Baha’u’llah did write the Kitab-i-Aqdas (His book of laws) following the laws was so ambiguously difficult they had to be translated and explained to be understood and even those doing the explaining were unsure.

A synopsis and codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas:

The text of the Aqdas upholds monogamy, but as it appears to also to permit bigamy The Gaurdian was asked for a clarification, and in reply his secretary wrote on his behalf: “Regarding Bahai marriage; in the light of the Master’s Tablet interpreting the provision in the Aqdas on the subject of the plurality of wives, it becomes evident that monogamy alone is permissible, since bigamy is conditioned upon justice, and as justice is impossible, it follows that bigamy is not permissible, and monogamy alone should be practiced.

Several things bother me about this entire subject. To my mind, if Baha’u’llah truly were a prophet he would not have married three different women, especially not a fifteen year old girl, and then excuse himself from breaking his own laws by claiming his marriages occurred before he revealed the laws. Another issue I have with this thought process is that the only reason for prohibiting polygamy is His Revelation. Not because women were deserving of feeling at ease, loved and protected in their homes and NOT having to share their husbands. Because maybe women didn’t want to feel like property, just one more shiny object of desire their husband has racked up. No, simply because at this time the laws don’t allow for it and should that change we’ll be back where we started.

I tried to fit in with the other Bahai women in Portland, Oregon. I washed my face and kneeled and prayed the memorized Bahai prayers because of course as a Bahai you are not allowed to use your own words to pray, you must pray the prayers written for you. We were all so young I guess we thought we were making a difference. We all abstained from alcohol, smoked (because that healthy habit was allowed) drank a ton of coffee and tea, had as much sex with our husbands as we could stand to keep them happy and did our best not to gossip although we did, with relish. I was the first one to get pregnant. The only words to describe the feeling is sheer joy. I knew my baby would be beautiful, loved and perfect in every way. Like dominoes the rest of them fell. It was like I somehow made it ok for us to move on to the next step. One after another they got pregnant. I related most to a couple of the girls. One in particular I spent most of my time with. I couldn’t stand her husband. He wouldn’t let her use the air conditioner in her car even when it was in the 90s and she was SO pregnant because he got it in his mind that the air was impure and somehow the baby would breath it?!! He also made her drink gallons of milk because he believed she needed to store it up to breastfeed their daughter. It was such an ignorant belief I had to resist laughing in his face. He was insistently, consistently wrong as hell, but I adored her. I couldn’t understand why she married him other than her family was devastated she had broken Bahai law. I remember sitting at the piano with her, her eyes full of fear and guilt. I could see the tears threatening to fall. I put my arm around her and said “Who cares what anyone thinks. It’s your baby, your body. You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to feel like God is disappointed in you. The price has already been paid long before you were the sparkle in your mother’s eye. Just make a life for your little girl and for God’s sake it’s just sex people have it all the time. You just got lucky. Don’t have a cliche shotgun wedding. You’re better than that. Of course that’s exactly what she did. And they fought tooth and nail until they decided to live separately. I wanted more for her. After Ian and I headed back to Alaska to be closer to my mom and have her help with Jaden, I thought about her every day. I even wrote her a song:

Under a Veil

You and I used to get mad, plotting escape like two thieves                                                                Walking the baby in circles you cried, He’s no lover!                                                                       Afternoons spent at your place, doing laundry and watching the kids                                           We’d try not to drink too much coffee…years later I wonder…                                                

Were you happy baby living under a veil?                                                                                               Is it sweeter there where you don’t have to think for yourself?                                                                               When he holds you close does he shut out the rest of the world and all of its darkness…                        knocking you senseless…

You and I used to get mad, and then laugh at all their words.                                                     Knowing we knew more than they did, it was one of our secrets                                               You’d play piano for me, and I’d sing our babies to sleep                                                             That life seems so far away now…since I chose to leave it

But were you happy baby living under a veil?                                                                                               Is it sweeter there where you don’t have to think for yourself?                                                                         Are you still the same girl who talked about running away,                                                                          Who longed to be free…Do you ever miss me?                                                                      

Kimkoa 2015

She’s different now though. Too busy to call, too busy to text, too busy to remember we were young girls together once, learning how to be mothers. Life does that to women. It steals the essence of their youth, not by an obvious hardening but by a gradual forgetting we were young. Young enough to walk in the rain at midnight smoking under umbrellas. Young enough to run through the rose gardens drunk on the fragrant air, young enough to giggle like school girls when we talked about sex and husbands and how we thought we knew so much but in reality we knew nothing at all. We’d give each other advice on how to please our husbands in the kitchen and in the bedroom. Sometimes we’d laugh until our sides hurt.

I connected deeply with another girl who wasn’t part of our core group of Ian’s friends and their wives. She was different. There was no callousness when it came to Sarah. Her essence was as gentle as a breeze on an almost still lake in the sun. She was one of the purest hearts I’ve ever known. There was nothing I couldn’t tell her. We’d go to this hipster fancy tea place on Hawthorne Blvd and order flowering Jasmine tea. We’d watch the tea bloom, the cream colored blossoms popping out from the olive green leaves. We’d share our lives, our hopes and dreams. We’d share our struggles and our grief. We’d trade places crying on each other’s shoulder. Sarah had no pretense, no ulterior motive. She often cried about work and how they treated her. She was scientist, she worked in a lab testing foods for the state. I remember I called her once from Hawthorne. I had been walking and it was raining and I just was hit with a feeling of intense grief. She showed up and made me get in her car and she had made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was so Sarah. Of course she did. It was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich to this day I’ve ever had.

As much as I loved Portland’s lush summers, I was terribly allergic. As much as I loved the culture, the restaurants and the shows we had no money to enjoy them.  As I wrote in my post: A day Without Rain the endless rain of the winter months depressed me terribly. By the time we left we had moved across the bridge and were living in Washington for the public assistance and health care. I was lonely for a life I couldn’t name. I felt I was living Ian’s life, all the while drowning for lack of oxygen in my own. This was the beginning of Jaden’s love of music. He had such a hard time falling asleep and so I would drive him around listening to all my favorite cds that I figured weren’t too exciting so he’d be able to drift off. We listened to Joni Mitchell (he used to ask me to sing “Little Green” to him every night.) We listened to Coldplay, Carole King, Billie Holiday, Gillian Welch, Elliott Smith, Rufus Wainwright, Louie Armstrong, Norah Jones, Aimee Mann. He loved getting in his car seat, he knew what it meant.

Jaden doesn’t remember much of Portland in those early days. The walks we would take in his stroller with the other moms in the group. The late night gatherings. I remember saying goodbye to Sarah. It felt like I had a glass heart that shattered. I knew I’d never find another Sarah. And as hard as I tried to stay in touch we haven’t talked in more than fifteen years. After all this time I’m still looking for her.

Landing in Alaska the smell of the evergreens was indescribably beautiful. After living in the city for so long I’d forgotten how clean and pure the air and the water is. I was excited to have help with the baby and to be able to have our own cozy little trailer to call home. I couldn’t have been any more naive if I’d been hit over the head with a cinderblock and thought it fell from the sky. The trailer was on Ian’s parents’ property and it was literally crawling with bugs. It also had mice in all the cupboards. I have a distinct memory of waking up and walking down the hall to the living room and Ian was jovially spraying a line of massive ants with raid. “Mornin’!” He called out to me as if he were making pancakes. I think I turned on my heel and went straight back to bed. I used to have to boil the silverware regularly after cleaning up mouse turds. Yes, it was quite a palace we lived in.

The worst day was when I woke up and flying ants were dropping on me from the ceiling, and crawling down my nightgown. I screamed and threw off the nightgown, pulled on jeans and t-shirt, grabbed a laundry hamper and filled it with some clothes. Then I ran into Jaden’s room put him on top of the clothes in the basket and carried the whole thing out to the car. Jaden went in the carseat, the hamper went in the trunk and I peeled out of the driveway, not stopping until I reached my parents’ house. I think I was already driving by the time Ian figured out what was going on. I called him from their house and told him I wasn’t coming back until he fixed the insect problem and the rodent problem. He said “Ok” in that way of his when he has no idea what else to say and no plan to fix anything. I did eventually come back after finding out I was pregnant with Elliott. The trailer had been fumigated, but unfortunately Ian decided he wanted to build a mini studio at the opposite end of the trailer and he used manure board to do it. So although there were less bugs, and less mice, the kitchen smelled like, well, shit. As summer marched on the smell got worse and worse and worse. I couldn’t figure out why and I couldn’t stand it. I complained to Ian to no avail so I took the issue up with his parents. As usual they told me I was being difficult and oversensitive probably due to the pregnancy. I complained and complained and complained. They did nothing. Until one fine day they were cited. A neighbor called and complained about the smell emanating from their property and an investigator was dispatched. As it turned out they had raw sewage bubbling up all over the grass not more than a few feet from the trailer and surprisingly close to where the kids like to explore. I remember Ian’s mom telling me they’d be working behind the trailer and I might want to keep the window closed without mentioning a damn thing about the fact that I was aware of a problem months ago and she put us all at risk. In my mind I punched her in the face. In reality I just stared at her until she left.

By the time Elliott was two and Jaden was four I had had more than enough of the trailer, Ian’s ridiculous parents, our charade of a marriage. I remember coming home from work and Jaden was dragging his little brother down the stairs in his diaper. “What are you doing?! Where’s your father??”

“He’s sleeping and I’m taking Elliott for a walk.” Jaden said matter of factly.

“Of course he is.” I sighed. Another time I came home from work to find both boys in their rain boots eating cheerios off the floor. There was milk everywhere.

“We’re having breakfast mama!” Jaden was proud of himself.

“Yummy” Elliott smiled cheerios falling out of his mouth. “I love mama.”

“I love you too pumpkin”

“Ian! GET OUT OF BED!” I yelled down the hallway, furious, but half laughing a the spectacle.

“Huh? What happened? I didn’t hear anything…Oh Jeez!!” Ian’s reaction was unreadable. he wasn’t fully awake.

“Have fun cleaning that up” I said, and headed down the hall to the bedroom.

A few days after that I was sweeping the kitchen floor and Jaden was watching me. Suddenly he made the statement that changed everything for me. “Daddy and me and Elliott make all the messes and you clean them up Mommy!” I stopped sweeping and looked at him. I looked at the run down trailer, at the mass of cords and instruments tangled on the floor. I looked at the shabby little window that opened into two panels of greenish glass. I looked at Ian’s speakers and his mix board and his manure board and inside I started screaming.

“You know Jaden, you’re right and I’m sick of it.” I realized in that moment I had to get out. Out of the marriage, Out of the Bahai cult, out of all of it. I looked at my sons and promised myself that whatever happened They would not grow up and become Bahais. I swore I’d show them a different life, a broader and brighter one with more color and life and less rigid rules designed to imprison them.

I’ll never forget when Ian said you know I’m only with you for the kids. I thought I could say the same thing! I had tried over and over to convince him we weren’t right for each other. The last time I told him I was leaving him he told me “I’m not going to be the first one in my family to get divorced!” His face was pinched and his eyes were like daggers. My answer was easy.

“You know Ian, it’s not really up to you is it?!” And I walked out the door. It took me eight years to get physically free of a loveless marriage and a religious cult and many more years to heal from the brainwashing and nearly obliterated self esteem. In the early days I would almost throw up every time I had to drop the boys off with Ian for his custody weeks. I also walked around feeling like I was going to be struck by lightning because the Bahai faith teaches you that there are special punishments for those of us who hear the message and reject it. I also took a dive in a completely different direction and threw myself into a relationship with a woman who had borderline personality disorder, which is tale for another day. But once I did get free, truly free, the air was the purest I’d ever breathed. The water tasted like sunshine. I felt taller, more centered and the master of my own free will for the first time ever. I was only nineteen years old when I signed my life away. And I’m forty-one now. For all the good, the bad and the ugly, I can say I’ve lived. And what is life for, if not to be lived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Animal Conference

I was picking each animal up, and putting it on her freshly made bed, and the little girl in me realized I could do whatever I wanted with her stuffed animals.

My daughter popped awake at 5:30 this morning. She was part of the alarm of the day, which is always set for me, the one who doesn’t need to be up that early. Basically I’m used to my husband’s alarm going off intermittently from 5:30 to 6am (the James Bond theme song) during which time I get up, get my natural energy caffeine substitute since I cannot have coffee, check email, facade book (no that was not a typo) and the gram, or simply lay there wishing his alarm were set for 6 while he continues sleeping. My mother is the same way, I hear her alarm go off and she will turn it off and disappear back into dreamland which is something I’ve never been able to do. Anyways, my daughter decided today was the day I needed to start mothering two minutes after I opened my eyes. At least I was prepared for her jumping into bed, hearing her voice in the hallway “I’m thirsty!” Lately she’s been waking up in the wee hours of the morning and stealthily creeping into my room and then suddenly leaping onto me “I want to sleep with you!” Then of course she proceeds to beat me and my husband up for the rest of the night; a punch to the eye, a kick to the balls…she likes to keep us on our toes.

So as I stumbled out of bed and made my way upstairs to get her water I realized how much that half hour of just me and the quiet house meant in the morning. Even though Alice is in preschool now and I have time during the day, I assign myself work to do and don’t consider it “free time.” What many people don’t realize is how easy it is to get behind when you are “your own boss.” If you don’t do the laundry you end up living under it. If you don’t grocery shop you are at the store every day and dinner is always late. If you don’t clean…well we all know that story. When I was trying to do everything myself and take care of all three kids full-time I slid into a special kind of insanity I don’t even have a name for. Really my days are manageable for the first time in a long time. That being said, living with two adults who work full-time I feel a great need to account for my time at home and when not writing I am either engaged in some kind of chore or running errands or taking the occasional nap when needed (No I won’t apologize for that! Bipolar people need their sleep!) I also spend time pacing because that is how I think. My son does this also. In fact if I have not already written what I am going to write in my head I like to write at the counter so I can walk around it between paragraphs. (Yes you can laugh at that image.) The earliest part of the day is different though. Hushed and dark, before the world has called for me I swallow the beauty of my own existence in huge gulps. That time is mine to relish or squander as I please, regardless of the expectations of others. It is not stolen, nor gifted me but earned fairly and earnestly and I do notice when it is infringed upon.

After I got Alice her water I tried to start the day with her and it did not go well. Alice, like every 4 and 3/4 year old (the 3/4 is extremely important) is less than cooperative when tired and kept insisting she did NOT have to go potty. I of course insisted she did and as every mother knows that is not a battle one can win. Ultimately I lost my patience and yelled, giving her bottom a useless smack. I felt instantly terrible and she continued to insist she DID NOT HAVE TO GO and needless to say she ended up cuddling her father who missed out on fifteen of his cherished snooze minutes. The battle over and lost, I was left wanting to feel proactive and instead feeling defeated. So I chose to let her boss her own body (she eventually did go potty of her own accord, and had a dry nap, then had an accident later in day go figure!) and I got her dressed, hair done, eating cheese and oranges and watching a show all before 6:30. I had time to kill so I decided to make the beds and put away her laundry. After making our bed I started work in her room and something happened. It was a small thing and yet not a small thing. It was a lightbulb moment that would not turn on for me until later this afternoon.

Alice, like every little girl, has a stuffed animal menagerie. Having missed out on my time from this morning I inadvertently took it back by creating a something in her room. I was picking each animal up, and putting it on her freshly made bed, and the little girl in me realized I could do whatever I wanted with her stuffed animals. So I started lining them up and arranging them sweetly along the side of her mattress. I was putting one with the other and before I knew it there they were holding court on her bed. I heard the bathroom door open as my husband having finished his shower began making his way down the hall. “Hey babe, I called, look what I did for Ali.” I felt proud and sparkly eyed at the sweetness of the picture.

“It looks like they’re having a conference.” He said, smiling.

“You’re right. It does. A stuffed animal conference.” We hugged and I felt a little better about the day. What happened next I hadn’t planned on. After driving Alice to school and finding the door locked I realized it was professional development day and school was closed. What? Huh? Oops. Alice was thrilled. I had plans that were suddenly not plans any longer. The day had its ups and downs. I lost and won other battles. But specialness still won out. We had spent the morning upstairs, a kaleidoscope of cartoons, play dough and a variety of snacks and I was writing this post in between those parenting moments. Suddenly I remembered “The Stuffed Animal Conference.” “Alice, I did something special in your room!” I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t thought to show her before.

“Really? Can I go see? Should I close my eyes?!” She was so excited.

“Yes of course, hold my hand.” I led her down the stairs and into her room.

“Open wide!”

“WOW!” She was as excited to see them as I was to show her and she began adding to the group from her toy box, it was adorable. I thought suddenly oh, she wanted my time. The lightbulb clicked on. The one thing every battle with her has in common is that it makes everything take longer. Today I gave her the gift of my time and the most special part of “The Stuffed Animal Conference” was that it was spontaneous and given without expectation or request. It didn’t even take that long, but it was my time and she knew it. So often as parents we want to give our kids so much…when all they really want is time with us. It doesn’t have to be a long time either but it has to be genuine. Not side glances they have to steal from us while competing with a computer screen or an iPhone. Real, honest-to-goodness time. The funny thing is, that doesn’t change even as we get older. As adults we compete for each other’s time just as often…and we make just as much noise when we don’t get it. 

Motherhood

Heavy wine head
Exhausted
Hot baby knees
Love
Little fist sweaty curls breath
Anxious warm restless
Moving just enough to startle
Nonsense whispers coughing
Stubborn feet pressed against thighs
Soft blanket snores humid dark
Air purifier whirring
Laughter behind a closed door
Sudden joy.

Kimkoa 2017

Hail to the mighty Stepmother

But then one day you open the door and love walks in. Of course nothing worth having comes easily and all good things must be cared for, must be worked for so you can appreciate their value. Love especially, since it is priceless.

My ex-husband found The One. My sons and I couldn’t be happier about it. We joke about finding our Nicks in the “nick of time.” (Her name is Nicole, my husband’s name is Nicholas.) I do believe they truly saved us from ourselves, because as our marriage dissolved we both took dives in the wrong direction. It’s what people do, apparently. But then one day you open the door and love walks in. Of course nothing worth having comes easily and all good things must be cared for, must be worked for so you can appreciate their value. Love especially, since it is priceless.

We live in an age of blended families. Those of us who marry so young we have no idea who we are or what we want are standing up and saying no to a over-arching societal expectation of a lifetime of unhappiness. Those of us who marry for the wrong reasons; to fill a void, to fit in, to hide who we really are, (there are so many reasons marriages crumble) are tired of staying married when we know it’s over because of “what people might say” or “what people might think” or “what about the children??” I can tell you this much because I have children who have lived on both sides of the coin and are old enough to use their voices, kids want happy parents. They don’t want a bunch of yelling and screaming. They don’t want parents who are withdrawn and emotionally shut down either, it’s almost worse. Most of all they hate hypocrisy, they know when you are lying to them and they just want to know what to expect so they know what they’ll be dealing with. Do they care where you are sleeping at night? Not really. As long as they know you are safe and they can call you and they can see you and you get along with each other.

Now earlier I said my ex husband found The One. He did. However she took her time joining our little clan. His first choice turned out to be a nightmare on wheels. No exaggeration on my part. Among her many sins was her aim and desire to replace me and how deep it went even I didn’t know until she was gone and my sons finally began to open up about what was going on when I wasn’t around. Oddly enough my own reaction surprised me. “I’m so sorry.” I said and started to cry. Because it occurred to me that again, as parents, we all had failed. You see it’s impossible to replace someone’s Mother and useless to try. The same goes for the Father. There is a deep biological connection that there are no words for. However there is no replacement for the Stepmother or Stepfather either. That one degree of separation is sometimes the germination for the most beautiful flowering relationship with a child. Most of all when they see that you truly love their parent their love for you will grow.

Nicole changed the game. She flew in like an eagle and landed in the middle of our feuding family and defended me. It was the first time I felt like I was actually being heard by what had become “the other side” since SHE left. To every complaint, every grumble, every hint of frustration she firmly stated “She is their mother. It’s time she got some respect for that.” It was like a bomb going off in my head. It was the stuff of dreams. And then it hit me. Nicole was a mom just like me. She had an ex husband too, married to the worst version of Stepmother just like Nicole’s predecessor. She knew how it felt to struggle to hold onto her dignity while someone else did everything in their power to tear it apart. She was being the Stepmother she wished she could give her daughters.

You see when my sons left one after the other to spend the school year with their father and the summers with me it was heartbreaking. If they had gone to any other kind of Stepmother I would have lost it completely. Nicole was able to navigate those rough waters like a seasoned captain and those were some hellishly rough waters. She could have easily taken aim at me or tried to alienate my sons from me but Nicole is not a stupid or jealous woman. To the contrary she is the very definition of what a stepmother should be. Kind, not easily manipulated, loving, forms her own opinions and in it for the long game. Also, and most importantly, not there to replace mom, there to embrace her and the kids together. Although it might seem unusual, Nicole and I call each other sisters and we have from the beginning. Why do we do this? For lots of reasons but most of all because we feel like sisters. It really isn’t that complicated. Sometimes the truth is the easiest answer of all. Hats off to you Nicole and all the other wonderful women out there who love unconditionally. Sometimes it takes a mighty heart like yours to withstand a storm. I love you.

 

Why Do I Call Her Sister

I call her sister
Because she is a part of me in a a way I have no words for
Because she loves my children as her own
Because she defends me ferociously
Because I trusted her instantly just from the sound of her voice
Because she trusts me
Because she’s tiny and breakable, yet fights like she’s Hercules which reminds me of my mother
Because she cusses like a sailor which also reminds me of my mother
Because she won’t be tamed, I’ve always wanted a sister like that
Because she’s my ally and friend
Because she calls me sister too
Because she’s the best Stepmother in the whole world and that’s a gift only my sister could give.

Kimkoa 2018