I will read you every word so you will know I’m smart like you are will you stay with us I won’t be loud I need you even though you have to go
I will read you every word so you will know I’m smart like you are will you stay with us I won’t be loud I need you even though you have to go
I tell myself I should be grateful. That even though I have to say goodbye, at least I’ll get to say hello again.
My middle son Elliott boards a plane tomorrow. To the sound of breaking hearts everywhere. Every day I wake up and wish his father hadn’t moved across the country. But some things can’t be helped.
I tell myself I should be grateful. That even though I have to say goodbye, at least I’ll get to say hello again. I wish that logic worked. All I feel is an empty place that only he can fill. We went to the trampoline park yesterday. It was the most fun I’ve had in I don’t know how long. It was as if we both forgot he was leaving for these few precious hours and just let go. Sailing from square to square, bouncing like kangaroos, playing virtual video games, running all over the park like little kids…it doesn’t get better than that. Later we watched Brooklyn 99 and I twisted his hair. We stayed up until two in the morning. Laughing, talking, doing his hair, making memories.
Of course nothing lasts forever. Every time my roses bloom I clip them faithfully, making fragrant and colorful bouquets. They’re beautiful. Until they’re not. Until their petals begin to fall. Until they curl and brown at the edges. Nothing lasts forever so we must make each moment count. I remember when Elliott was a baby, soft and fat and gorgeous. Big blue eyes, a wide engaging grin…the easiest baby you could ever ask for. It’s hard to believe he’s as a tall as I am now. That he can’t seem to eat enough tacos. That he broke my heart by going to Oregon and never coming home.
It’s been a hell of a summer. My daughter is operating on all cylinders, my mother took off for a month in Spain, I have a hysterectomy scheduled in early September because I can’t stop bleeding. Luckily yesterday it was mild enough that I could forget about my pain. At least for a little while. My oldest son was here for a month and barely made it that long. He says he’ll visit when he’s older. Unless I move I don’t see that happening. He hates Alaska with a passion. I am forced to watch him grow up on Instagram and Facebook. It’s about as painful a thing as you can imagine. All I can think is he’s my son. He’s my son. How is it I don’t get to raise him? How is it that I missed straightening his tie for his first homecoming dance? That I’ve never seen a concert or a play he’s been in? That I have to beg and plead for recordings and videos that never come? That he and his brother didn’t even send me a card for mother’s day and FaceTimed me with horrible reception while working on their stepmother’s mother’s house as though I mattered as much as a pebble on the ground? My head echos with these truths unceasingly. I have to remind myself that life is a lot of things but fair is not one of them.
I feel angry. I feel hurt. Most of all I feel lost. I feel lost when I hear mothers talk about taking their teenagers to football practice or guitar lessons. When they complain about their messy rooms. When they snap pictures of them with their girlfriends. I can’t relate to these women. My sons were ripped from my life and I’ll never know those moments. I don’t get that time. They’re growing up without me, being raised by another woman. In another state. And I am powerless to change it.
It hurts most when I think of my daughter. She can be moody as hell but she loves her brothers fiercely and when they are gone all she does is talk about when they’re coming back. I never wanted it this way. They live with their stepsisters and often it feels like they forget their blood sister even exists. They’ve never even gotten her a present. Not even a card. They don’t call her. They don’t realize what it’s like to be a little sister who’s brothers were there one day and gone the next.
I’ve felt like throwing up every day for the past week. I’m not pregnant. My husband thinks I’m just heartbroken. The body has funny was of dealing with pain and stress. And mine apparently chooses for me to feel like I’m going to throw up on the floor.
However time marches on. I wanted to work on music with my son. It never happened. He just wasn’t here long enough. He had overnights with friends, parties here, parties there, a little sister to play with and everything else that gets in the way of everything you try to do. Maybe one day.
My consolation in all of this is that despite the distance I know my sons love me. They may be forgetful and even selfish as most teenage boys are but the love is there, the bond remains unbroken. I like to imagine one day playing with my grandchildren, the pain of the past a distant memory. My sons seem to be growing and thriving which on one hand hurts because I selfishly want them to need me more, but on the other hand and the most important point is that they are well, happy and cared for. I would never interfere with a son’s need to be near his father. That relationship will shape the men they will become.
As I said before I clip and prune my roses when they have bloomed fat and fragrant. The hardest part is waiting for the new blooms to open and cover the bush with beauty. It’s the same way with my sons. They come to me full of blooms and I gather them up and breathe them in, every last bit of them. They leave their blossoms all over my heart. All over their sister’s heart. And then when they have given all they can and the clock strikes the time of leaving I watch them go, still strong, green leaves and branches with the tender buds I sowed that will grow over the long months until I see them again full of new life. Until then I can only love them, miss them and wonder what color their roses will be next.
I miss a lot of things about having my own house. Like having my own kitchen. Every woman knows her kitchen is her home base and I can say from experience there’s no such thing as a shared kitchen.
I don’t want to talk about my personal life anymore. About how I live in a little room in my mother’s huge house because we can’t afford the mortgage payment.
I don’t want to talk about how my husband was laid off and had to take an entry level job that doesn’t even offer health insurance so he had to negotiate a LOWER SALARY so we could qualify for medicaid. And that means I can’t make a dime. Unless it’s under the table.
I throw my kids these beautiful parties that I organized, decorations I spent hours choosing. They have guests and gifts and food and what more could a child want? All of this and I still feel like the heel of someone’s shoe. I wait to find out how much my mother, my husband can give me to spend and I stretch those dollars like they were made out of silly putty. Do I feel proud when my guests remark how lovely everything is? No, not really. Because it’s not my house, it wasn’t my money and even though my aesthetic and flair for design shines through it’s not enough to make me feel anything but needy and low.
I miss a lot of things about having my own house. Like having my own kitchen. Every woman knows her kitchen is her home base and I can say from experience there’s no such thing as a shared kitchen. I cook in my mother’s kitchen. I’m grateful for it and lucky I get to use a kitchen at all…but I know my place.
I have my friends over for tea. I use a combination of mine and my mother’s tea sets that have been collected over time. I make sure to have a vase of freshly clipped roses, peonies, lilacs. I love the clear teapot that you drop a bound bud of jasmine into and watch it flower in the steaming water. I love chatting about our children, our husbands. How the world is changing. All while the sun is streaming in through the many windows in my mother’s great room. “How lovely this was” they say. “Such a beautiful home, we have to do this again.” I feel filled up like the helium in a balloon. I practically float after them and see them off, watching the them back down our driveway framed on either side by green lawn and new rosebushes just beginning to bloom.
It doesn’t last of course. It wasn’t my house they were admiring. It wasn’t even my tea. I may have chosen it but earned it? I could never claim that. My world is my room and even that isn’t sacred space. It must be kept to a certain standard. One I practically kill myself trying to maintain. The childlike part of me wants to build secret compartments. Special nooks and crannies that hold my treasures and only I know about. The adult part of me knows that will never be enough. That I am not a child anymore.
The worst is asking for money for food. For clothes for the kids. I feel sick to my stomach every time. It never used to be this way. The loneliness I feel in this beautiful house that isn’t mine is the worst I’ve ever felt. I’m a permanent guest.
I dream of a day where I am not just a guest. Where my kitchen is my own. Where I don’t have to live out my life by someone else’s standards. I know that is years away if it will ever come true. Until then I’ll continue to live in two worlds. The as if this were mine and the I have nothing.
She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.
This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.
She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.
”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.
“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.
”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.
“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.
“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.
”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.
“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”
”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.
”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.
”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.
”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”
“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.
The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers. She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.
She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.
“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.
*To be continued*
When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love.
Love is never what they show you in movies. It’s raw, exhausting, unforgiving and also the purest thing you’ll ever know. These days people confuse purity with beauty. They confuse it with intellectual prowess. They confuse it with youth. But purity and youth don’t go hand in hand as any parent of a tantrum throwing, toy destroying, wall-kicking child will tell you. No. Purity is its own entity separate from any other reality. It exists in the pupil of the eye just as a tear falls. It wafts through an evening Christmas party past the clinking of glasses and the low hum of small talk. It rests on the surface of water and on the fragile, fragrant petal of a rose. It is always alive inside the heart of the truly in love.
Love can humble the grandest egos or lift the meekest souls. Love means your first teenage kiss. The gentle breeze over the grass, the moon half full, the porch light just about to turn on. Love also means empty shoes at the edge of the bed. A suit laid out. A bouquet of flowers wilting on the dining room table next to a yellow pad with a eulogy written in cursive, several lines crossed out.
For those lucky ones of us, we are surrounded by the many, happy versions of love. We are at ease in our lives. At peace with our surroundings. Truly it is a fortunate existence. But for many of us we are not so lucky. We must placate our greedy hearts with the sanitized pretend-love of the silver screen. A fake-love designed especially for the lonely consumer. For the loveless fan desperate to fill the cavernous space meant to hold their passion and desire.
My husband is Scottish. He even has a red beard. His eyes are the color of a cloudless sky and he’s tall enough to touch the ceiling. His voice rumbles when he talks and his gentle snoring calms my worst nightmares. I’m at least 60 nationalities probably more, but for the ease of description I’m multi-racial. You could call me bi-racial but you’d be incorrect. Not that people who aren’t of mixed racial backgrounds care about that kind of thing, still it is true. You could call my skin color butterscotch or caramel. Toffee works, coffee with cream. You could be racist and call me high-yellow. I’ve heard it before. Mulatto too. (Just a note white people. Don’t call us mulatto.) My kids are absolutely beautiful and every combination you can imagine. I have two boys from my first marriage and one little girl who was my husband’s gift to me. My oldest son has my skin color and dark eyes, with thick wavy hair. My middle child who was born with straight blonde hair and blue eyes now has hazel eyes and curls that excitedly leap from his head. My daughter who is only five and still finding her place in the kaleidoscope of images has dark blonde ringlets and copper colored eyes. Her eyes were a perfect metallic grey when she was born. She fascinated the nurses.
When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love. Of course not everyone sees us this way. My husband’s family is a prime example. His parents are in town. They’ll be leaving soon. They’ve decided not to visit their beautiful granddaughter who has been talking about seeing them ever since she found out they were coming. Yes, it’s horrible and they’re horrible. They’re in town for my husband’s sister’s wedding. They didn’t go to ours. Yes it’s gross and sad and everything else you can think of.
It’s these moments I have to stop and think about what to tell my daughter. because of course I went through the same thing. I remember my mother asking her father if she could give me her dollhouse that he made her. I remember him looking over at me with disgust and saying no, not for her. I remember watching my cousins unwrapping their christmas presents at age seven while my grandmother coldly handed me a check and said I don’t know what girls like her want. I felt like part of the floor that day. I knew my father wasn’t allowed in the house. I don’t remember getting a present. Just that stiff paper check and that feeling of “less than they are.”
I had that same feeling when my husband’s mother banned me from her house and my husband would take our daughter to visit without me. I suppose this was before my daughter grew old enough to shine her multiracial light. I watched them drive away and felt that same awful feeling of “less than they are.” I felt it every time he did it. The worst feeling in the world. The opposite of love.
Once I took my sons to my husband’s parents’ house. I was pregnant at the time. We were invited for his sister’s graduation dinner. It took his mother 45 minutes to acknowledge we’d walked in the room. My sons inched closer and closer to me at the table the longer the silence went on. You see my husband’s mother and sister were busy playing with the children of my husband’s ex-girlfriend. So busy I guess they didn’t notice us. Perhaps we weren’t white enough to be noticeable. My husband’s ex-girlfriend is basically vanilla pudding. A pile of snow. As white as it gets. They have wood walls so apparently we blended in. Needless to say I was furious. As I would be every time I saw them. Because not only had they made me feel “less than they are” they did it to my children and I found that unforgivable.
They continued to do awful things and we continued to love each other despite them and the details are less important than the toll it has taken on us, to have such close contact with the opposite of love. I still haven’t recovered and now that they’ve lied to my daughter about seeing her and are continuing their campaign of making myself and my children feel “less than they are” there’s no way I can risk allowing them to poison her life more than they already have. They’ve also hurt my husband terribly although I warned him this is what happens when you marry outside your race, class, parental expectation. He thought his family was different. I knew they were just like all the rest.
So where do we go from here? How do we move on? I already know what I’ll do. I’ll tell my daughter the truth. The same truth I’ve told her since she understood my words. I promised her I’d never lie to her and I never will. I found out the whole ugly truth about my racist grandparents when I was fourteen and I was so angry I never spoke to them again. I would rather have known right from the start who I was dealing with. I’m not letting my daughter go through what I went through. She’s not going to feel “less than they are.” She’s going to feel loved, cared for and never, ever lied to. There’s another special place purity can be found. In the clear reflection of honesty. I’m going to tell my daughter the truth and the fragrance of purity will swirl around us, delighting our senses and building my daughter’s trust in me. Ultimately filling both our hearts with that rare mixture of purity, trust and love.
And as for my husband’s sister who still lives here I suggest she stays far, far away.
You mother in law you
The cars go by and I hear you talking
He’s MY son I think
As the rain falls.
You dirty rat
Nothing equates us
Except a shared lifetime of pain like a mournful rainbow arching across a quiet sky
A sad note
A good son
Stop trying to stand in front of me,
Just because you knocked it over doesn’t mean you get to watch the pieces crumble.
I dreamt this already
And at the end you kneel.
Sent from my iPhone
At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.
So my daughter has become a “problem child” at preschool. She started out her preschool career as an “angel.” In the beginning I would go to pick her up and her teacher Miss Cheryl would tell me her days would be perfect if the class were made up of little Alices. Needless to say she does not say this anymore. After talking with her this morning and hearing about Alice’s behavior in school my heart sank. Of course I came up with a million and one reasons why this was my fault and after ruminating and coming up with a million and one reasons mentally why my daughter was failing preschool on the way home from dropping her off, I pulled into the driveway, ran up the stairs and talked to my mother who luckily happened to be home sick from work. (Let me tell you, having a mother with a doctorate in psychology who used to teach preschool can really come in handy.) After relating the troubles Alice and a friend of hers who is the same age is having in the classroom to my psychologist mother she listened intently and simply said- “she’s bored.”
“Bored?” I said, not having considered this as a possibility but instantly agreeing with the idea.
“Of course. She’ll be five in less than a month. She’s going to school with three year olds. She’s bored out of her mind! She should be in the school-age room. She starts kindergarten at the end of August. It’s June.”
“Ohhhhhh.” Duh. Why did I not think of this before? When her well-meaning but over-worked teacher was telling me how she won’t stay on her cot at nap time. Well, yeah. Because she’s outgrown it.
“You need to call them and tell them to put her in the school-age room. Especially if she’s having problems. She’s only got a month left and she’s going to give them hell. The other day I was there watching her trying to color and a little girl who must have been about 3 years old kept stealing her markers and Alice finally had enough and pushed her. Her teacher said ‘Now Alice we talked about this, she’s never been in school before.’ I was like, Oh my god, no wonder she’s running out of patience. She’s going to school with babies!’ “ My mom had an excellent point. No kid is going to stay bored for long. They’ll entertain themselves one way or another. Jesus, I thought. Why don’t they move them at four and a half at least? My daughter reads. She can do simple math. She paints her nails. She swears. (You want to judge me about that, guess how much of a shit I give) She has fashion sense. She wears lip gloss. She is well beyond a room full of three year olds. Again I really don’t care if you think there’s a problem with that. I think you know what you can do with your opinion.
Of course I’ve long given up on the structure of this particular daycare. They put more energy into their appearance than they do into their actual program. And of course it’s the staff working with the kids that suffer. They don’t get they support they need, it’s like a revolving door for workers and for the ones who have been there consistently and are depended on it truly isn’t fair, they really get overworked. The admin staff sure wants parents to think they’re dropping their kids off into some kind of preschool/kindergarten hybrid, but its just a daycare. A daycare. Oh they want you to think it’s a real school. They spin you a yarn about curriculum and training and certification. They have a lot of stupid I repeat STUPID policies to make you think it’s a school. But truthfully, It’s a daycare just like any other daycare where the kids run around and smack each other with barbies and toy cars and eat orange slices and fill their pockets with rocks on the playground that then end up on the floor of your car. Sure they memorize a word or two in Spanish and practice counting to 20 and glue cotton balls and felt to construction paper, so you feel like your money is spent on something more than just glorified babysitting, but truthfully it’s not. What you’re really paying for is socialization and the ability to do things without your child. Honestly your child won’t emerge anymore of an Einstein than the child who stayed home with their parents until kindergarten. And depending on the parents that other child who stayed home just might be farther ahead. Like way farther ahead.
So anyways I have no illusions about my daughter’s daycare. She’s there because she loves being around other kids, she’s easily bored and I need time to get things done during the day that don’t involve her. Things like writing and gardening. And sitting on the couch for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Mommy play with me!”
This is not to say there aren’t excellent preschools that don’t have fancy curriculums with detailed, well-thought out programs that are designed to enhance the development of the preschool brain at each level and my daughter has actually had the benefit of participating in one such program. But it lasted only a few hours a day, it was extremely expensive, and every kid in there came from such a wealthy and un-relatable family she didn’t end up making a single friend. She just didn’t fit in with such a demographically homogenous group which is a fancy way of saying “all rich white kids” and I definitely did not fit in with their rich stay-at-home mothers. Nor did I feel like trying. At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.
Anyways she’s got until the end of August and then she’ll be in kindergarten, raising hell and challenging her teachers with her wild and witty wonderful way of learning, understanding, becoming, experimenting, leading, being fierce, being beautiful, excelling, exceeding, paving the way for the rest of the ones who love her and follow in her footsteps. She’ll be creating new avenues her teachers never thought of and they can fight her or embrace her just like every problem child that ever was.